Leah Stein Dance Company – Of Grass and Gravel
Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Fifteen Years of Environmental Art at the Schuylkill Center

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

In 2000, Mary Salvante had an idea that the Schuylkill Center could be the perfect place to showcase environmental art. Nearly 15 years later, I’ve been reflecting on the past decade-and-a-half of environmental art at the Schuylkill Center: 20 outdoor exhibitions, 11 artist residencies, and dozens of shows in our gallery. Over the years, artists have grappled with issues and wonders in our ecosystem and shared their responses in diverse media. This post shows just a smattering of highlights of the art program going back to our very first gallery show and first artist-in-residence.

This January, we are kicking off the Schuylkill Center’s 50th anniversary celebration and celebrating fifteen years of environmental art at the Schuylkill Center with our fourth Annual Richard L. James Lecture by artist Mary Mattingly. Along with an interdisciplinary panel, Mattingly will reflect on the role of environmental art in a changing environment. With ecological challenges growing in complexity and scope, 2015 presents the perfect opportunity to consider the relationship of art and environment, and what it might look like in the next 15 years, 50 years, and beyond.

LandLab Residency (2014-2015), Artists: Jake Beckman; Leslie Birch; WE THE WEEDS (a collaboration of artist Kaitlin Pomerantz and botanist Zya Levy); Marguerita Hagan, B.H. Mills, and Maggie Mills

LandLab is a unique artist residency program that integrates art, ecological restoration, and education. A joint project of the Schuylkill Center and the Center for Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA), LandLab residencies will make innovative installations that prevent or remediate environmental damage while raising public awareness about ecology. LandLab artist Jake Beckman created this mind-map to depict his early conceptualizing of his work on the cycles of soil formation and decay in the forest. Continue reading

Educators dressed as nocturnal animals (1988).

Trick-or-Treating Through the Years

By Ezra Tischler, Arts and PR Intern

Halloween hikers gather before heading out on a night walk (1977).

Halloween hikers gather before heading out on a night walk (1977).

The forest can be a scary place at night. Its unfamiliar sounds reach out from the darkness, telling a nocturnal tale we humans seldom hear. However, the nighttime forest is full of much more than fright. By the light of moon, the forest comes alive.  Owls screech and hoot; frogs croak; skunks, raccoons, and opossums forage through the forest floor; bats flap about in search of something to eat. A wondrously active forest is born each night.

At the Schuylkill Center we explore just how amazing, and un-scary, the nighttime forest is with one of our most popular programs ever, Halloween Hikes and Hayrides. Established nearly 30 years ago, Halloween Hikes and Hayrides is now our longest running program ever! Families walk through our candlelit forest in search of educators dressed as nocturnal animals. Each animal—a skunk, raccoon, bat, fox, opossum, frog, and owl—tells their wild night-life story to our guests.

Educators dressed as nocturnal animals (1988).

Educators dressed as nocturnal animals (1988).

I spent some time last week looking through the Schuylkill Center’s extensive photo archive searching for evidence of the first Halloween Hikes and Hayrides. Though it was difficult to pinpoint the very first Halloween Hike, I was able to find some photos and negatives from hikes dating as far back as 1977. Mike, our director, says he doesn’t remember Halloween Hikes and Hayrides under that name from his first stint at the Schuylkill Center, but it’s clear the tradition is a long one.  Halloween Hikes & Hayrides has grown a lot since its inception. One photo shows about a dozen-or-so hikers gathering before heading to the forest. Last year we took to the forest with around 300 hikers in attendance!

Carving pumpkins (1977).

Carving pumpkins (1977).

Another photo from 1977 shows children enjoying a pumpkin carving session; we won’t have pumpkin carving at this year’s event, but there will be pumpkins for painting–a favorite in recent years. One of the earliest photos of anyone in costume shows our educators dressed as friendly nocturnal animals, it’s dated 1988. I was only a newborn in 1988, but I’m excited to join this year’s Halloween Hike as a costumed educator. More than anything, I can’t wait to see our forest trails dappled in candle light. I hear that alone is worth the price of admission.

Join us on October 24th and 25th for the Halloween Hikes and Hayrides, from 6:00—10:00 pm. Aside from the magical walk through our woods, enjoy a hayride along a woodland road, a campfire and s’mores, and pumpkin painting too. For more information click here.

Ezra joins the Schuylkill Center as an intern in the Environmental Art and Public Relations Department. He is pursuing a Master of Environmental Studies degree at the University of Pennsylvania.  Ezra enjoys riding his bike along the Schuylkill River Trail, exploring his South Philly neighborhood, and playing with his Beagle, Homer.

9.9 -1

Nature Preschool, Community-Building, and Responsibility Rocks!

By Shannon Dryden, Nature Preschool Manager and Sweet Gum Lead Teacher

childrenneednature-01The first few weeks of Nature Preschool have started off with a busy buzz and hum as the two classrooms, Sweet Gum and Sycamore, have filled with children, conversations, artwork, lunch boxes, water bottles, and more.  It may seem silly but every September I am reminded how the beginning of the year reinvigorates teachers and classrooms as new personalities come together to build a community. It is loud (as it should be), it is busy (many moving bodies), it is messy (children’s hands at work), it is full of questions, thoughts, and ideas as the pieces of the classroom puzzle are beginning to fit together. Continue reading

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The Biggest Day in 50 Years

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

This piece was originally published in the Roxborough Review on Thursday, September 10 in the column Natural Selections

Saturday, September 27 might just be the biggest day in the Schuylkill Center’s storied 50-year history.  On that day, we’re offering the first bird seed sale of the year, the last native plant sale of the year, and launching the University of Nature, a full day of outdoor learning for adults.  We’re beginning the day by presenting the ninth annual Henry Meigs Award for environmental leadership to Ann Fowler Rhoads, and ending the day by unveiling a new show in our environmental art gallery.

One big day.

The University of Nature is the latest in a series of new programming thrusts the Schuylkill Center is rolling out.  We’re offering university-level expertise in a one-day outdoor setting.  Over the course of the day there are nine workshops and walks from which to choose, and you’ll leave at day’s end graduating to a higher level of environmental understanding. Continue reading

Beyond the Surface

On May 31, 2013 The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education presented Beyond the Surface: Environmental Art in Action – A conference of ideas and innovative thinking about the relationships between art and nature.

This unique, first time conference brought over 100 professionals from the region and beyond (as far as Maine and North Carolina) to hear from the Advisory Team about their own individual practices, and then to join them in conversations.  Below are each team members’ presentations, for those of you who wish to hear from them directly.

The afternoon sessions were  titled “Activate,” Integrate” and “Engage.” Undoubtedly, this one-day conference has sparked ideas and ways forward to attendees from the cultural and environmental communities. We look forward to continuing the conversations.

Below, are each advisory team member’s morning presentations. Each were asked to speak on the work they do, have done, and speak to the issues pertaining to ecological art.

Lillian Ball

on how she became an ecological artist, focusing on water.

http://www.lillianball.com/

Sam Bower

on things that changed his life: Andy Goldsworthy, Deborah Small, Art as part of a system.

Stacy Levy

on a new kind of art, her own work, and the importance of collaboration and approaches, how artists make nature more visible.

http://www.stacylevy.com/

Amy Lipton

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9lVQlC_14w

(we  are having technical issues here, but please click on link above to watch this video)

see more about Amy Lipton’s work with ecoartspace

Eve Mosher

on participation, interruption and interaction in her work. Watch her have the audience reflect on their first encounters with nature. See her nine concepts about her practice.

http://www.evemosher.com/

Frances Whitehead

on her work in sustainability, her practice: personal, pedagogical and professional.

 

This conference was made possible by the generous support of the Pew Center for Arts And Heritage Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative and The National Endowment for the Arts.

 

Collaboration As a Means, Not an End

By Amy Lipton, Curator and SCEE advisory panel member, 2012-2013

In my work with ecoartspace over the past 12 years focusing on ecological artists and their projects, the term collaboration has been frequently evoked. The intention behind much of this work is to restore, remediate or transform damaged landscapes and also to educate the public about specific environmental problems or challenges. Artists taking on this imperative seek to inspire modification of human behaviors that have negatively impacted the earth’s ecological systems. Their work embodies what German artist Joseph Beuys coined as “social sculpture” over 50 years ago to illustrate art’s potential to shape society and the environment.

Joseph Beuys planting 7,000 Oaks for Documenta 7 (1982)

Ecological art demands forms of collaboration that are still rare in studio art practice in 2013. Collaboration in visual art (as opposed to design and architecture as well as performance-based art) is antithetical and contradictory to the position of the lone, iconoclastic artist of modernist/20th century ideals. Art schools continue to train artists to work independently as solo agents, emphasizing preparation for the entrenched market system of gallery and museum exhibitions and the art fair circuit to produce name brands. Ecological artists work from a different mindset, one which mirrors natural systems. Collaboration is not only a worthy goal or desire, but also a necessity in order to further community-based/public/infrastructure projects and to learn from needed specialists in other disciplines including science and engineering. Often the goal of these projects is to function (this word confronts all notions of art as useless) as components in ecological systems, operating outside of art spheres altogether. In order to succeed with their projects ecological artists must take into account the needs of specific communities with all constituents of these communities – human and non-human. Collaboration (and by implication participation) is a current art world buzzword. Used in terms of relational aesthetics, social practice art, and community based art projects, the word risks losing all meaning as just another trend for the art world to absorb. However collaboration is difficult and not for all artists – nor should it be.

The collaborative process itself is intrinsic to the art making and the results of art interventions in ecological systems usually improve over time. Time itself is a key component. Meaningful dialogue and discussion towards a shared goal takes a long time. Ecological art projects can take several years of planning before implementation. Aside from the vision of the initial collaborative team and the work that went into achieving consensus, projects often require a lengthy permission process from bureaucratic government officials and agencies, business and private interests as well as community support, involvement and at best citizen participation. In recent years emerging artists have been addressing environmental issues and sustainability on a smaller, more immediate scale. This comes from a desire to create work in less time by doing more temporal public art works and bypassing the need for permits. These artists have developed ways of working that are performative and include direct engagement by the artist with the public.

A recently completed curatorial project of mine titled TRANSported has been exemplary in demonstrating this collaborative participatory process. Habitat for Artists, an evolving collective of eighteen artists (they were included in my 2009 Schuylkill Arts Center project Down to Earth: Artists Create Edible Landscapes) created a self-sustaining artists studio and shared space for discussion and engagement held for one month by the Hudson River in Battery Park City, NY. Changing on a daily basis, artists and partnering organizations worked both inside and outside of a shipping container – converted into art studio space. The container was powered by the use of solar roof panels and included a square foot roof garden. Exterior sides included a vertical green wall, rain barrel collection for water, attached hoop greenhouse for growing seedlings and a blackboard for drawing and changing communications. Over the course of 30 days the container became a hub for workshops, an ecological information and education center, after-school art space, artist in residence program – one huge interactive social sculpture.

Artists working inside the habitat
photo credit: Mario Mohan

Artists working inside the habitat (Pictured: Marion Wilson, Michael Asbill and Michele Hersh)
photo credit: Mario Mohan

The elements that went into making this collaborative project successful included:

1. The artists having a shared purpose over and beyond their individual expression.
2. A non-hierarchical decision making process with no specific leader.
3. Process over product- viewer engagement was the goal.
4. An interest in crossing disciplines and working with partners to learn.
5. A willingness to accept unpredictability and flexibility including limitations of weather and last minute changes in personnel.
6. Understanding that evolving daily changes to the space over time were a key component of the overall project.

The Habitat for Artists participants each contributed a different component, working within their unique methods and styles for the benefit of a larger shared art/ecosystem and demonstrating that collaboration is a means and not an end.

The collaborative approach to art-making that is inherent in ecological art calls into question some of the most basic premises of the contemporary art world and artists.  However, both the pressing ecological issues and the need for broad social co-operation in global society necessitate the shift to a collaborative sensibility.  Following on Beuys’ idea of social sculpture, art can point society in meaningful directions.

Amy Lipton, Curator and SCEE advisory panel member, 2012-2013

Below is the information about our upcoming conference, a large part of this planning project. Online registration is available here!

Beyond the Surface: Environmental Art in Action

Hosted by the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education

May 31, 2013

Stacy Levy, Pier 53

Join us for a day of ideas and innovative thinking, investigating relationships between art and nature.

 

 

Conference Description

How can environmental art engage the environment and the individual, activate awareness, and integrate perspectives that result in unexpected and innovative approaches to environmental literacy?

While the natural world has captured the imagination of artists for centuries, more and more of today’s artists are thinking beyond the studio, blending art, science and social practice with a fresh sense of immediacy, connecting art to nature and environmental issues.  No longer content with scratching the surface of environmental problems, these artists want to move beyond the surface, engaging audiences to become part of the solution.

This conference brings a team of cutting-edge environmental artists and arts professionals to Philadelphia to share this work with you, to discuss ways art can create environmental awareness while restoring ecological systems.

Jenny Sabin, Greenhouse and Cabinet of Future Fossils

The artists presenting at the conference have been working with these ideas for much of their careers. To call attention to climate change, for example, Eve Mosher painted a high-water line across Manhattan, showing people where the water would rise to if sea-level projections occur. Stacy Levy’s artwork in the Schuylkill Center’s Sensory Garden remediates our building’s stormwater, which had been compromising our own forest.  Lillian Ball projected a shifting, multicolored map of the Arctic circle onto a sphere of ice, the ice melting even as the projected image showed a vanishing Arctic.

The Schuylkill Center’s Art Department has brought artists to its 340 acre site since 2001. This year, the Center has gone further, examining how art intersects with other disciplines –education, ecology, architecture, engineering and planning, to name a few, to create fresh innovations and exciting experiences for the public. Our project has brought together an Advisory Team of the artists and curators who work in the field of environmental art.  (Please visit www.schuylkillcenter.org/art for more information about this project, the team and to read their blogs).

We believe art can help to repair a broken relationship between humans and nature and simultaneously transform audiences from passive observers of art to active participants in ecosystems.

Lillian Ball, WATERWASH® ABC

We are re-thinking how art exists at nature centers, and are eager to share these findings with our colleagues in the art and environmental communities.   We welcome artists, educators, environmentalists, scientists, designers, landscape architects, teachers and students of all ages to this groundbreaking event.

 

 

Conference Schedule 

Morning Session: 9 am – 12 pm

1. Welcome by Schuylkill Center Executive Director Mike Weilbacher

2. Introduction by Jenny Laden, the Schuylkill Center’s Director of Environmental Art, and Deenah Loeb, SCEE trustee and chair of the Environmental Art Committee

3. Environmental Art Advisory Team Presentations:

Lillian Ball

Sam Bower

Amy Lipton

Eve Mosher

Stacy Levy

Frances Whitehead

 

Lunch: 1 – 2 pm

Optional site visit:  Take aninformal walk throughout SCEE lands with SCEE staff to the pine grove or Penn’s Native Acres

Afternoon:

1. Breakout Groups: 2 – 3:30 pm

Afternoon Breakout groups will delve more deeply (guided by members of Environmental  Art Advisory Team)

I. Engage              Eve Mosher/Amy Lipton

II. Integrate        Frances Whitehead/Stacy Levy

III. Activate         Lillian Ball/ Sam Bower

2. RainYard presentation by Stacy Levy:  4 – 4:45 pm

Levy discusses rainwater, and creating a permanent ecovention at SCEE.

3. Closing: 4:45 pm

4. Outdoor reception:  5 – 6 pm

Celebrate Levy’s new installation with refreshments in the Sensory Garden.

 

 

 

Conference Registration

Conference admission fee $80
Schuylkill Center member discounted admission $60
Students, artists, educators discounted admission $40

Early Registration Special: Until March 31, a 20% discount will be applied at checkout

Register online HERE

For more information, call our art department 215 482 7300 x 113  or visit our website: www.schuylkillcenter.org/art

Or email artprogram@schuylkillcenter.org

This even is funded in part by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage and The National Endowment of the Arts.

Time Frames

by Sam Bower 2013


Standing in the woods near the pond at the Schuylkill Center, we can look out and see a range of time scales. The brown and golden leaves under our feet from the Fall- the leftovers of a year’s work by the trees above us. Perhaps there’s snow still on the ground from a recent storm, itself the result of the vast cycles of evaporation off the ground and from lakes and oceans into the atmosphere and clouds and back down again. Some of the trees around us are decades, maybe hundreds of years old. Frogs and fish and insects hidden underground or inside vegetation, birds in their nests chirping and flitting about, grasses, flowers each have their lifespans and carefully timed cycles to support, prey on or evade each other – evolved over thousands, even millions of years.


Changing urban land use patterns offer opportunities for shifts in paradigm, innovation and art: (http://www.takebackthetract.com/)

When we think of culture and public art, we have an opportunity to think along similar time scales. Humans also have their cycles of productivity, lifespans and fleeting passions. These interests also evolve over time to reflect our knowledge, context and the resources at hand.

Sometimes an artwork arrives with a bang and loud trumpets and just as quickly fades into the day or week or month only to live on in memory and documentation. Like sighting a rare Blue-winged Warbler in the forest, or waking up to an overnight dusting of snow that makes the line of every tree suddenly visible, or the miracle of a drop of dew on a leaf in the Summer that reflects a world upside down, these brief events delight and remind us of the preciousness of the present moment. Some things are simply best communicated ephemerally. A song. A performance. A rain shadow.

On the medium scale, we have most plants and animals and planted crops and, alas, most human projects. We tend to think in terms of months or years or at best decades. A hundred years without regular maintenance is long for a built structure, long for most outdoor sculptures, too, even those meant to be “permanent”. It’s the lifespan of an exhibition, a person, a raven, a grove of Sassafrass (albidum) and it serves to ground us in the familiar. We can see it and know it because it’s us. Within a century, with the strategic accumulation of such medium scale projects, we can make major improvements or changes to a place and set things in motion that can last a lot longer.

It’s the larger time frame that gets the least attention and is often more difficult to wrap our heads around. The scope of generations. Climate change. Geological time. Too often, these big shifts elude us. We claim not to know. A sudden revolution or a storm or an accident can thwart the best laid plans. Ultimately, we know that a focus on the specific is often too limiting a scale for something long lived and significant.

At the Schuylkill Center, the increasing flow of voracious and unmanaged deer over and across the land, and the invasive Asian earthworms (Amythas hilgendorfi and agrestis) under it, are regional and even continental challenges. To encourage specific changes here, we would need to plan and coordinate with those working within much larger areas to be effective. To set in motion a resilient set of processes that truly begin to nudge us and the natural areas under our trust towards a future that can address a world in flux is an enormous challenge. At a time of massive species extinction and global changes in climate, we need a flexible and directed multi-timescale approach to culture and ecological stewardship.

The environmental art advisory team at the Schuylkill Center in 2012.

This is the challenge ahead for the Schuylkill Center. Most art, even ecological art is a flash in the pan, a tasty snack. They generate attractive catalogs and press releases and perhaps valuable discussion, but will the worms and watersheds really notice? We have large institutions for pickling great paintings and sculptures, but outdoor work designed to heal the earth and support our communities is a different animal. While a project can have representative images and installations at these museums (usually as part of a temporary exhibition), the real work gets done on the ground and in context.

Like in an ecosystem, we need the dew drops and temporary projects to delight and attract. We also require specific medium term artful initiatives to control erosion, channel rainwater, educate people longer term and connect current and future generations to the land. It falls to the long term, multi-generational projects, however, to provide a long term vision that considers the implications and resilience needed to cope with, say, a 2-6 degree rise in global temperatures over the next few hundred years. It seems we’d want to look at rising water levels – how would this affect the Schuylkill River? What local conditions will we need to ensure maximum biodiversity and habitat support for migrating species seeking more favorable habitats?

In nature, we can see the extraordinary interplay of finely tuned life cycles working together to support the system as a whole. As these delicately synchronized dances grow increasingly out of synch with pollution, temperature and weather changes, what we know and have studied over the past hundreds of years will require new interpretation. It will become less about restoration of past conditions and more about our capacity to surf these changes. Our notion of what art is will also need to change.

For ecological art to be effective, we will need to think along multiple time scales and beyond the individual artwork, towards a future-oriented cultural system as a whole. How can the brief delightful moments support the larger arc of history? Can we begin to layer and combine artworks to support each other, much like the shift from unicellular to multi-cellular life? I’m looking forward to the role the Schuylkill Center can play in this civilizational shift. It is a precious opportunity to contribute to our times and help develop new cultural patterns for generations to come.

©Sam Bower 2013

 

Making Room for Rain

By Stacy Levy

The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education is working to investigate the intersection of nature and the city. The role of rain in the landscape is being actively explored in programs and planning around its buildings. As a nature center, SCEE is at the forefront of solving site issues through art based intervention. On May 31, 2013 a conference on New Environmental Art will be held at SCEE to look at ways that art and science can collaborate to solve ecological problems in urban nature, and enlighten citizens to find new solutions in their own lives.

Rain is usually given a long narrow space to inhabit: gutters, downspouts, underground pipes. People can walk practically anywhere in a building and on the surrounding landscape. What if this paradigm got turned on its head? 
Give people a more narrow path of movement around a site while rain gets plenty of space to spread out and linger? How would our built environments change? And how would it change our relationship to rain?As an eco-artist, I want art to be an advocate of rain. Art is good at giving meaning to the leftover or abandoned aspects of the world—and rain is one of those abandoned elements. Though a yardstick worth of rain falls every yearin this region, we hardly register rain’s presence. In urban settings, architecture and engineering have generally kept rain invisible to us. The relationship between rain and the built environment needs to be changed, and art is well positioned to alter that relationship.At SCEE, I am working with ecologists, engineers and educators to create an artwork that gives the rain room to spread out while keeping people in a defined space. But people do not lose out in this design— both rain and visitors get a dynamic space to co-exist.Rain Gardens create spaces that can get wet and stay wet while the water infiltrates into the soil.

Instead of becoming a muddy soup, the rain garden holds the rain within the permeable soil and the roots of a diverse community of native plants . These plants also make good habitat for other species like insects and food for birds and other small mammals.

 

This new artwork deals with two types of visitors to the site: rain and humans. A grated metal catwalk prevents the plants from being trampled while also keeping people’s feet dry. ‘Staying dry’ and ‘soaking in’ are two incongruent activities—one of the reasons that rain has no place to go in the built world is the hierarchy of the dry human foot!


We want to demonstrate ways to change rain’s journey in the built environment. We also want to give visitors a chance to test out the very materials of the city: the surfaces we spend our lives walking on like asphalt, concrete and grass. How do these materials work with or work against rain?

How this art works: Some of the rainwater will be diverted and stored in an above ground cistern. Then during dry days, our visitors can pump this contained water into 5 different troughs. Each trough contains a different familiar surface materials from the landscape: concrete, asphalt, gravel lawn and meadow. People can direct the rainwater onto these different surfaces to see how the water responds— by soaking in or running off.

At SCEE rainwater will be given both the time and the place to act the way rain should act. And people will be given a place to interact with the falling rain while staying out of its way as it soaks into the soil. The idea of rain needing a refuge is a new idea to most of us. We hope people learn about rain, and the surfaces it meets in our world. This piece gives people a new angle on rain and its relationship to our built environment.

The piece will be under construction over the early spring. Please come by and see it!


Want to know more about Rain Gardens?

The Philadelphia Water Department

The Rain Garden Network

The Groundwater Foundation

The Department of Environmental Conservation

Rain Garden Alliance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©2012 Stacy Levy

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