Meandering with Stacy Levy at Swarthmore

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Waterways (1)

I recently got to attend a lecture at Swarthmore College’s List Gallery given by Stacy Levy, one of the most exciting environmental artists working today.  Titled “Constructing Nature: What Art Reveals,” Levy’s talk (video here) touched on her approach to environmental art, some of her past pieces (including one we’re lucky to have onsite here at the Schuylkill Center), and two new pieces that were unveiled that night at Swarthmore. 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.

 

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

 

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