One of the most dangerous unspoken threats we are facing is the insect-apocalypse currently underway. As the foundation of ecological webs as well as an essential part of our food production, the disappearance of pollinators presents a grave situation, yet few speak of it. While creating studies of pollinators native to Maine, I sometimes feel inclined to cut them out to collage on various backgrounds. With the voids, I build collages that integrate reproductions of the DOW Chemical Plant landscape that I painted in 2009. Filling the voids of these bumble bee forms with the saturated textures of the original landscape speaks to the impacts of chemicals that fill our spheres. Even the word ‘pesticide’ reduces our perception of value by blanketing judgement across the whole insect world without recognition of the role that beneficial insects play in a balanced approach to agriculture.
Since autumn 2012, .debris. has grown into a collaborative project which is being created as a response to the problems presented by single use plastic. The work reflects the literal problem of plastic in marine environments while offering a symbolic representation of the chemical body burdens carried by wildlife and humans alike. In presenting these issues, we are asked to consider misplaced notions of “disposability”, calling in to question consumer driven waste which has devalued what is in fact a very important material.
Surface Arts London invited the Debris Project to engage communities in northern Thailand during a residency specifically designed for collaborative works at the Rumpueng Community Arts Center during the month of August. The work was shown at the Rumpueng gallery in October, 2015. From there, the installation moved to an exhibit in downtown Chiang Mai by Art Relief International, who continued to develop the project regionally through the remainder of the year. The project traveled to Letterkenny Arts Center in Ireland as part of the Hybrid exchange between Colorado and Irish artists. The following spring the work was presented at TransCultural Exchange’s conference, Expanding Worlds at the University of Boston. A regional collaboration with multiple organizations through the San Francisco Bay Area culminated in an exhibition at the Gallery Route One near the National Seashore. The project was integrated into the summer camp program at the Marine Mammal Center and as an ongoing aspect of the ecological activism promoted by Save Our Shores in Santa Cruz. The integration of the project into regional educational programming took place through the school year with the culmination exhibition taking place with a presentation by Lee Lee at the Monterrey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Education Center in April 2016.
Highlights since the project was installed at the Chateau de la Napoule include an installation for the Mobile Art Exhibition curated by Aslak Aamot Kjaerulff, which was installed at the Aalborg University for the Cosmobilities Network in Copenhagen, Denmark. The project as presented in a mobilities context will be published by Springer Press International and released in 2016. A presentation on the value of stepping away of educational models when building international collaborations was given to the Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences for Welcome to the Anthropocene at Pace University, New York. Ties between chemical body burdens and industrial agriculture were explored on a Slow Food platform during Terra Madre in Turin, Italy. In the Caribbean, we executed a collaborative performance, Message in a Bottle with Aragorn’s workshop on Trellis Bay in the British Virgin Islands. Representations were also gathered from the Timouns Rezistanz in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. Marine debris collected from a beach clean with Sharkastics on Maui have provided hard plastics softened by the open ocean to integrate into youth workshops on the mainland. Explorations on effective community engagement around plastic pollution were shared with the Voluntary Artist Studio of Thimphu, Bhutan. In conjunction with the Biennial of the Americas, Processus included part of the work in an exhibition about the Life of Things. Also in Colorado, the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History hosted a family activity day themed, From the Mountains through the Prairies to the Oceans, that tracked waterways. Installations of student involvement in the project were mounted in Denver by the Denver Aquarium, PlatteForum and the Ricks Center for Gifted Children at the University of Denver. In New Mexico, the river organization, Amigos Bravos, hosted a .debris. presentation at the Santa Fe Community Foundation as part of their Water Matters series, and the Field Institute of Taos integrated it as part of their curriculum to explore human impacts on river ecologies. The project has been published in articles by the United Nations Environment Programme, Bay Nature Magazine, RISDxyz and as an interview on Santa Fe Radio Café.
Essentially this was developed as a flexible tool to engage people creatively around issues surrounding plastic pollution. The overall project gained strength through gathering a wide range of geographical representations of the ecological impacts of plastic. It is used as a hands on activity to incorporate into existing programs or curricula, as well as a platform to share effective ways of addressing the problems at hand.
Do you see what I see?
A Fine Art Experience for Children & Everyone Else
This show is for you—to inspire you to see art in your own way. To share what you see. To ask the people around you what they see. When we share our experience with others, we are connected. We form a community
Maybe something at this show will excite you. You will go home and keep thinking of it. That thought, can be called a spark and it means your creative fire has been lit. Keep the fire alive and continue to think, talk and draw about what you have seen. You will feel more a part of everything if you do.
My son, Thatcher Gray was four when I was invited to attend this residency geared towards creating work for children. I felt an urgency in communicating what I had learned about chemical and plastic pollution because of the challenge they present to the next generation. Works created during the residency are viewed here. We were asked to provide an interactive element for the exhibition, and the suggestion launched the project into becoming a platform for an international response to chemical and plastic pollution.
Initiated by Rian Kerrane, a native of Ireland, Hybrid asks fourteen artists to “cross over”. The artists’ work examines the experience of crossing the Atlantic in the current political climate while acknowledging historic influences from each artist’s perspective; identifying experiences of (dis)placement and immersion in cultural and social surroundings from either side of the Atlantic. RedLine provides the first venue for a pair of exhibitions, the second of which will take place in Ireland, allowing each artist to engage both with “local” proximity and “foreign” distance in turn.
The wide range of included media and the diverse origins of the participants are intended to incite a stimulating translation and critical examination of ongoing cultural conversations and personal experiences of the hybridization of our lives, expectations, ancestral backgrounds, geology, perceptions, identities, of immigration, and of both the geographic distance and human commonality of the artists.
Shaped by Kerrane’s personal ties with the included artists, Hybrid emerges from a reflective process of curatorial matchmaking. Working in sculpture, painting, drawing, photography, film and installation, the works of these two groups of artists both mirror and confront one another. Hybrid acknowledges and pays tribute to complex local experiences in a common global culture, reflecting Kerrane’s eighteen years of continually (re)crossing the Atlantic.
The Irish arrived in the west as hard rock miners, and planted the seeds of industrialization that changed the face of our landscape and established the foundation of culture in our mountain towns. Even today, the old saloons carry an Irish flavor. This series looks at the long term, chemical impacts of a set of mines perched around the town of Leadville, at the headwaters of the Arkansas river. I was awarded a Terraphilia residency through the Colorado Art Ranch, where I had the opportunity to get to know the ecologist, Susan Tweit. She offered great insight into the nature of the river, and the transformation of the ecology after the grouping of mines upstream became a federal ‘Superfund’ site, wherein the pollution from the mines was mitigated. The mines had no outflow, so when the snow melts, all the passages fill up with water, which then overflows into the Arkansas River, killing all the insects and larvae in a flood of red-colored heavy metals from the mines. The drawings here were paired with a series of waterflies native to the region & drawn with red-tinged ink in a way that make them look like they were exploding.
The landscape conveyed in Crop covers a widespread smattering of Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Silos, the largest of which are the now defunct Titan missile silos. One Titan was built east of Denver. The federal government acquisition of farmland to build this massive structure that was put in operation for only a few years. Then they took away the bombs and gave the land back to the farmer. Dismayed, he dug out an access hole through which we would enter and explore this monument to destruction. It breaks my heart to think of the immense amount of resources that went into the construction of this under ground complex which now lay in ruin. In 2007 a group of artists convened in the blast tunnels to create and record music in the unique acoustics of the spaces. Their works were imbued with the energy of the space which made for haunting explorations of sound. Some of these were turned into a sound installation that I included in the curation of a duo of exhibitions on genocide for the Mizel Museum and as a site specific installation for the International Society of Genocide Scholars in Sarajevo, Bosnia. I brought with me a set of high powered spotlights and photographed the spaces. When I started creating work about the industrial food complex, these seemed a good fit because the chemicals that are used in industrial agriculture were actually born out of war. The fixed nitrogen developed in making bombs in the world wars was re-appropriated to make fertilizer after the wars’ end. It was fitting to add these to the overall series exploring the complexities in the way we grow and consume food today. Painted with acrylic on canvas when Thatcher Gray was very young. I had shifted to using acrylic to reduce fumes from oil paint while he was a baby. I’m not wild about the medium so it was not a lasting conversion.
Flying over eastern Colorado in the late winter, fields that had been dusted with snow offered a poignant landscape which I photographed out of my airplane window. For me the palette evoked a sparse, infertile landscape. It made me think of reports of industrial agriculture impacting the land by causing topsoil runoff and nutrient depletion. The huge layer of loam found through the Midwest has allowed for rich cultivation for generations of farmers. It cushions the blow of chemical intense industrial practices, even as the soil is steadily eroded. When we look to areas that have been farmed for millennia, we find that this approach cannot be replicated because the delicate balance of soil building through traditional means is taken away. As demonstrated by the thousands of farmer suicides through India because of their ‘green’ revolution, the impacts of switching to an industrial approach can be devastating. As farmers there return to crop rotation and soil building, we can think about the direction we are heading and how to alleviate the potential demise of what had been one of the richest cultivation grounds. The photographs were not great quality, but they offered enough visual information to create a set of three landscapes painted with acrylic. It fits into the bigger series on industrial food production I explored in tandem with growing our own garden with a very young Thatcher Gray.
Motherhood changes us. For me, the arrival of Thatcher Gray caused a shift from explorations of the long term impacts of war to an internalization of how we nourish ourselves. Internally, I was growing a child, nourishing him within then using my body to feed him, so I became acutely aware of what I was putting in my body. As he started eating solid food, I became obsessed with where that food came from, how it was grown and the load of chemicals that could potentially add to our body burdens. We started growing our own food. Before creating artworks that emphasized solution oriented practices, I explored how to represent the impacts of petrochemicals. This series of mixed media works on paper integrated a base texture made from a silkscreen print of collaged plastic that I had singed with a blowtorch. I transferred photographs of the oil refinery in Commerce City, just north of Denver. These photographs were taken during a rainstorm while Thatcher was safely cuddled at home with grandma. They are abstracted by the movement of my car as I was driving by. Generally I like to compose landscapes with slow consideration, but this particular afternoon I was confronted by hefty plain clothed security guards within 3 minutes of stepping out of my car, even though I was on a public avenue. The angles of the drive by photographs coupled with the often blurred motion recorded by the camera added a dynamic quality to the compositions that are similar to the textures wrought by a shotgun blast, both processes being slightly out of control. Into this foundation, I painted out aspects of the industrial landscape with oils to highlight the skewed angles and add atmospheric depth.
I was only able to compose two images of the Commerce City Oil Refinery in the rain before being asked to leave by plain clothed security guards. I felt compelled to create these landscapes of the industry which drives our mobilities-centered culture as the start to an exploration of how petro chemicals dominate our era. They are painted with thin veils of oil paint interspersed with drawings made with conte crayon on unstretched canvas.