October 20, 2014

Tricia Zimic

In delicate palettes and dynamic compositions, Tricia Zimic juxtaposes native wildlife with cityscapes to address how human society affects the natural environment. Zimic works in as a re-forester and make some of her art based on things she sees and experiences in the field. She works in porcelain sculpture as well as in oil paint. She researches the conservation status of her subject matter and then explores interesting ways of portraying them and their story. She shows a bobcat in the city, a salamander next to its beer can home, the battle between native and invasive species, and haunting images of toxic landscapes where our very survival is questioned. 

"To me, these pieces are as fragile as the true animals and remain a record of what we have with us today but may lose tomorrow." -Tricia Zimic

The Garden of Earthly Delights: As it is
A triptych: As it was, As it is, and As it will be

Zimic with The Garden of Earthly Delights
In the description of this piece:
"Years ago Chief Seattle said to his tribesmen ‘What is man without beasts? If all beasts were gone, men would die from loneliness of spirit.  For whatever happens to beasts soon happens to man.'"

UprisingAddressing the contentious debate over the presence of wolves in and around human development. Here the wolves are taking back their territory that we have taken from them.

Zimic working on a sculpture.

Flight or Fight
Depicting a fight between native species of New Jersey and alien invasives from Europe.

September 22, 2014

The day the people showed up.

Yesterday morning I hit snooze on my alarm and rolled over in bed, just to have a few more minutes under the comfy warm covers. When I opened my eyes again I jumped out of bed and into action. I had stayed in too long, but I got dressed I went right to the kitchen to make some coffee and fed the dog. Then I packed a small bag with some snacks, a jacket, my camera, one of my paintings and a fist full of business cards. Then I went to the guest room door and gave it a little knock. My traveling companion was up, but had also slept in. Even with our delays, we were out in the car and pulling out of the driveway by 7:30 AM, only 30 minutes later than anticipated.

After a three hour drive, made shorter by great conversation, we realized that we had missed our turn off and found ourselves slightly too far east. With a little quick thinking and only a few neighborhood streets we were back on our way towards the George Washington Bridge. From there we worked our way south along the western edge of Yonkers down to Manhattan.

The first thing to strike me as we approached our destination were an exceptional amount of New York City resident runners out and about, porting their fit bodies in the warm and hazy September morning. The local fitness fans were not the only people out on the streets on September 21, 2014. We, like so many others, had come to the city to take part in the People's Climate March. We joked with each other that couldn't find parking because so many marchers had inundated the city.

We walked onto Central Park West on 89th Street behind the end of the designated march site. For about an hour we walked down and then up Central Park West looking at the marches organizing themselves. They held signs, wore costumes, sang, and milled around taking in the scene. The atmosphere was light. Everyone's excitement and positivity was apparent by the smiles and feeling on comradery  that wafted from the crowd. Dreaded hippies, i-phone toting hipsters, Vietnam era weed legalizers, cat-loving grandmothers, youth activists, socialists, monks, drag queens, anti-fracking advocates, meditaters, bike lovers, and even a few dogs came out and a united voice to ask the heads of states who will be converging on the UN headquarters tomorrow for meaningful climate action. At one point I realized how many NYPD officers were lining the streets on either side of the organizers, and for a second I wondered if there was a chance of this ending in violence. I only let the thought cross my mind and then let it go, mustering faith that no one that I could see looked like they wanted anything more than an honest and heartfelt plea for a better future.

Waiting in line people chatted among themselves, danced and sang to the breakout of song from the trumpets, and shared snacks of apple slices and leaves of kale. The feeling of common good, desire for bettering the world, and love of all approaches to get there held everyone together with the common vision of a beautiful and healthy future. This is what really defined the day for me, it was really amazing to witness and be a part of. The police and city staff were right there with us, smiling and chatting or chuckling at the marchers' enthusiasm.

It certainly felt like a lot of people had turned out, but there is really no way of judging when you are in the middle of it all. When we heard that they were estimating over 310,000 people came and that we had filled up about 4 miles of Manhattan streets, we were overjoyed. We were, we all were, making history. We had taken a day out of our busy lives to come together to focus on something that is bigger than us all individually, to focus on the most important and far-reaching issue of our lifetimes.

By about 4:30 PM we had gotten to the end of the march. We had taken about five hours to walk from Central Park West and 83rd Street down to 11th Ave and 34th Street where the march ended. Although the end was slightly anti-climactic, we jumped and gave each other an air high five to commemorate our walk through the Big Apple.

Thank you to everyone who showed up yesterday to make history, and to all those who were with us in spirit around the world. It was a day to remember and be proud of.

There were people supporting all forms of energy, just as long as there is no greenhouse gases involved.

Don't miss the irony here. This scull was a part of a Bread & Puppet performance and represented the death machine of fossil fuels. In the background is a poster for a dinosaur exhibit at the Natural History Museum. Up on the top of the building's facade stand significant men of science, wondering about all this... 

This is all very hard work!

Love this!

A flooding NYC was a theme. poignant.

A little comedy on some very un-funny issues, always welcome.

All generations represented.

Here they are watching the Bread & Puppet performance.

A group meditating along the side of the march, hopefully magnifying our actions.

Our wishes of what not to loose to climate change.

September 15, 2014

What is useful anyways?

Although I understand why it happens, I frequently find myself asking "why?" Why are humans so self centered? Why does nature have to benefit humans to be valuable to us? Why is the anthropocentric world view so common and socially acceptable? 

"Oh, it is just human nature." "All species worry about themselves first." "That's natural." 

Maybe to a certain respect it is natural, or at least makes sense on some primal level. It makes sense that someone will worry about their daughter more than an insect, and how a flower may cure their cancer more than a "useless" minnow swimming in a stream. But shouldn't what sets humans apart from other animals allow us to think more deeply and broadly about the value of nature?

I can't help wondering why our consciousness, our understanding of how the world works, and our ability to flourish on this earth rather than just survive doesn't leave room in the human mind to appreciate and value all living things for their innate worth. Let things live for their own sake. Attempt to protect living things for their own right to live. Do we really need more than we already have, more space, more water, more forests, more resources? Or can we understand that our ingenuity is all we need to be perfectly satisfied with what we have and still continue to raise our standard of living in order to leave plenty of space and resources for other life. 

We have all we need in intellectual capitol to live amazing and beautiful lives today without taking away from other living things. Yet, somehow, we still have to convince people to care about the natural world only through describing how the natural word will benefit them in some tangible and utilitarian way. 

Below is an article from New York Times blogger Richard Conniff addressing just this issue. I really appreciate this article and the questions that it brings up. For my last project, that involved raising awareness about 50 species affected by climate change, I thought about this a lot. I chose some species that conjure up sympathy from people, such as the panda bear and the holy cocoa tree. Since I feel pretty passionate about all living things being equally important in the unbelievable complex network that is the biosphere, I consciously chose other species that people usually don't recognize like zooplankton, chytrid fungus, and pine beetles. 

With regards to environmental art, the idea of how to frame environmental conservation and how to get people's attention are central to how to be effective. What do you want your main message to be? Do you want to "market" the environment in order to "sell it better?" Or, do you want to be more raw, crunchy and lean towards deep ecology? Maybe the inherent worthiness of nature doesn't quite sell as well to society. 

Life on earth and all her interconnections are too complex for us to fully understand. Who are we to judge what is important and more worthy of life? Given that we all evolved here together shouldn't the miracle that life is, be enough?

Useless Creatures
September 13, 2014

This article contains no useful information. Zero. Nada. Nothing. If usefulness is your criterion for reading, thank you very much for your time and goodbye, we have nothing more to say. The truth is that I am bored to tears by usefulness. I am bored, more precisely, of pretending usefulness is the thing that really matters.

I mostly write about wildlife. So here is how it typically happens for me: A study comes out indicating that species x, y and z are in imminent danger of extinction, or that some major bioregion of the planet is being sucked down into the abyss. And it’s my job to convince people that they should care, even as they are racing to catch the 7:10 train, or wondering if they’ll be able to pay this month’s (or last month’s) rent.

My usual strategy is to trot out a list of ways even the most obscure species can prove unexpectedly, yes, useful. The first effective treatment that turned H.I.V. from a death sentence into a manageable condition? Inspired by the biochemistry of a nondescript Caribbean sponge. The ACE inhibitors that are currently among our most effective treatments for cardiovascular disease (and which have lately been proposed as a treatment for Ebola)? Developed by studying the venom of the fer-de-lance, a deadly snake found from Mexico to northern South America. The new medical bandage that’s gentle enough for the delicate skin of newborns and the elderly? Modeled on the silk of spider webs.

Every time I begin this line of argument, though, I get the queasy feeling that I am perpetuating a fallacy. It’s not that I’m telling lies; these examples are entirely real. But given, for instance, that three-quarters of our farm crops depend on insect pollinators, or that more than 2.6 billion people rely directly on seafood for protein, it seems a little obvious to be reminding people that wildlife can be useful, or, more to the point, that human survival depends on wildlife. Without saying so out loud, the argument also implies that animals matter only because they benefit humans, or because just possibly, at some unknowable point in the future, they might benefit humans.

You don’t have to look too far to see how silly this can get. In truth, I don’t have to look at all, because university press offices fill my inbox with examples every day: The Harvard scientists who hope their study of cuttlefish skin will “inspire improved protective camouflage for soldiers on the battlefield.” The Berkeley team that thinks studying the genetics of blubber-eating polar bears could help us learn to live with our bacon-wrapped, wide-load lifestyle. And the wonderful folks at Nanyang Technological University, in Singapore, who believe “Squid sucker ring teeth material could aid reconstructive surgery, serve as eco-packaging.” (And you thought they were good only for calamari.)

I don’t entirely blame the scientists. Their research often depends on taxpayer funding, and their dreams are haunted by the ghost of United States Senator William Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Award. That award garnered headlines by ridiculing outlandish-seeming items in the federal budget, and animal behavior studies were a juicy target. So now people doing that kind of research all feel obliged to imply that they are two steps away from a cure for the common cold. No basic research here, Senator, sir, no idle curiosity. Useful “R” Us. (They also delight in pointing out that one of Mr. Proxmire’s targets — a $250,000 investigation into the sex life of the screwworm fly — has yielded $20 billion in benefits to American cattle farmers by enabling control of a major insect pest.)

Improbably, wildlife conservationists now also often hear the call of the useful. Along with a large contingent of eco-finance bureaucrats, they try to save threatened habitats by reminding nearby communities of all the benefits they derive from keeping these habitats intact. Forests, meadows and marshes prevent floods, supply clean water, provide habitat for species that pollinate crops, put oxygen into the atmosphere and take carbon out, and otherwise make themselves useful. In some cases, conservation groups or other interested parties actually put down cash for these ecosystem services — paying countries, for instance, to maintain forests as a form of carbon sequestration. The argument, in essence, is that we can persuade people to save nature by making it possible for them to sell it. They can take nature to the bank, or at least to the local grocery. They can monetize it. (The new revised version of Genesis now says, “God made the wild animals according to their kinds, and he said, ‘Let them be fungible.’ ”)

I understand the logic, or at least the desperation, that drives conservationists to this horrible idea. It may seem like the only way to keep what’s left of the natural world from being plowed under by unstoppable human expansion and by our insatiable appetite for what appears to be useful. But usefulness is precisely the argument other people put forward to justify destroying or displacing wildlife, and they generally bring a larger and more persuasive kind of green to the argument. Nothing you can say about 100 acres in the New Jersey Meadowlands will ever add up for a politician who thinks a new shopping mall will mean more jobs for local voters (and contributions to his campaign war chest). Nothing you can say about the value of rhinos for ecotourism in South Africa will ever matter to a wildlife trafficker who can sell their horns for $30,000 a pound in Vietnam.

Finally, there is the unavoidable problem that most wildlife species — honey badgers, blobfish, blue-footed boobies, red-tailed hawks, monarch butterflies, hellbenders — are always going to be “useless,” or occasionally annoying, from a human perspective. And even when they do turn out, by some quirk, to be useful, that’s typically incidental to what makes them interesting. Cuttlefish do not fascinate because their skin may suggest new forms of military camouflage, but because of the fantastic light shows that sometimes play across their flanks. Spider web silk doesn’t intrigue because somebody can turn it into bandages, but because of the astonishing things spiders can do with it — stringing a line across a stream and running trotlines down the surface to catch water striders, for instance, or (in the case of the species named mastophora dizzydeani) flinging a ball of silk on a thread like a spitball to snag moths out of the air.

Wildlife is and should be useless in the same way art, music, poetry and even sports are useless. They are useless in the sense that they do nothing more than raise our spirits, make us laugh or cry, frighten, disturb and delight us. They connect us not just to what’s weird, different, other, but to a world where we humans do not matter nearly as much as we like to think.

And that should be enough.

September 7, 2014

Pandas on Tour

When most people think of papier-mache they might think of elementary school, arts and crafts at summer camp, or a big mess. Ready to break down those stereotypes is French artist Paulo Grangeon. Starting in 2008, Grangeon's 1,600 slightly kitsch papier-mache panda bears have been on a world tour. The project is called Pandas on Tour and was made in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund.

Grangeon made 1,600 pandas to represent the number of individuals alive today in the wild. The piece aims to raise awareness about their dwindling populations. As it turns out, 1,600 might actually be too generous, as recent estimates have put the numbers closer to 1,500. Pandas, which has long been an iconic symbol of endangered species, due especially to the panda's inherent cuteness (look out for those big eye patches!) and its iconic status as the WWF's mascot, have been in trouble for a while.

Their decreasing population has generally been driven by habitat loss, which isn't hard to imagine in midst of the ever expanding Chinese population. More recently, a new threat to the panda's population has been identified: climate change. Pandas native habitat are the moist bamboo forests that lie between 5,000 and 10,000 feet in elevation. Although pandas are categorized as carnivores, they subsist almost exclusively on bamboo. Being a specialist like this, for better or worse,  makes them especially dependent on their food source.

As human development and disturbance encroach on their habitat, creeping up the mountain sides from all directions, pandas often find themselves high and dry, unable to travel safely to new habitat.
As if humans were not a large enough threat for anyone's sustainable population, climate change is affecting weather patterns in China...along with much of the rest of the world, and in this case, making the mountain forests less habitable for bamboo. The panda's problem is actually a bamboo problem, but that doesn't make it any less detrimental to these lovable teddy bears.

The panda may be a cliche endangered species but due to its enormous human fan club, Grangeon's art project is making waves. Cliches are cliches for a reason, and pandas definitely win on the cute factor. This project seems to be an effective strategy to get non-environmentalist to take an interest in endangered species.

Aside from starting a conversation among the non-environmentalist types, I wonder if Pandas on Tour is really effective. I have not seen it in person, but from a photograph I wonder if the project really denotes the nearly deadly population numbers effectively. From images, the project actually looks quite striking, which is commendable to Grangeon's effort. Because the piece makes such a large impression on the viewer, does it really force someone to contemplate the species diminutive status? What if the project was in miniature, making reference to the small population size or fragility of their situation? Or maybe they could be displayed along side the estimated global population of starlings, which might effectively put their actual population numbers in perspective for the unversed viewer.

Regardless of any constructive criticism clearly, due to its wide press coverage, a lot of people are impressed by Pandas on Tour. I am sure it makes a significant impression on the viewer, especially in its notable installation sites including the Eiffel Tower and the Tain Tan Buddha in Hong Kong. I hope this piece starts conversations about endangered species, wildlife conservation, and environmental destruction, but with a slight reservation of being too critical,  I can't help but ponder if the cutesy ocean of pandas really conjures up these critical issues. This project is impressive and, yes, cute. What would this project be like if it highlighted a less-cute, less-known, and possibly even more endangered species?

August 9, 2014

A little more press...

This is a few months old, but I figured I would put it up anyways. Johnny Segalla is a great guy, and I appreciate him taking an interest in what I am doing. We had a wonderful chat over a cup of coffee last February. Johnny is young, curious, intelligent and very enthusiastic. This was in the Berkshire Courier in March 2014.

*I would like to mention that some quotes are not direct quotes.

January 27, 2014

A little press.

I got a little shout out from my old alma mater the other day. 
See the whole news letter here: http://e2.ma/message/5oknh/xiyruf#block_wnventoy

Alumnae Ariel Burgess

Climate Change is an Emperor Penguin Issue by Ariel Burgess

For James II by Ariel Burgess
LCWS Alumni Update
An Interview with Ariel Burgess

When were you at LCWS, and what is one memory you have from your time here?
'92-'01 (K-8th) I liked playing in the woods with my friends the best.

What is the bravest thing you've done since you left?
Believed, even when others said it was crazy or impossible.

What are you doing now that you love?
Working on building an art career.

What do you do to relax?
Dance to live music and hike with my dog.

Where do you live? What do you like about it?
I am living in Western MA for now, mostly by accident, but I love the people.

Who are the people (and animals) you live with?
I live with my beautiful pup, who is almost 8, and a great roommate.

What are you reading right now?
I just started reading Driven to Extinction by Dr. Richard Pearson for my current project. I am also reading The Fools Progress by Edward Abbey.

Anything else you want to share?
I am an environmental artist. Right now I’m working on a project exploring how climate change exacerbates biodiversity loss around the world. I’m interested in making science accessible to a wider audience and raising awareness about global extinction rates. The work is called We Are All In This Together

Learn more about Ariel’s art, and donate toward her current project:

January 2, 2014

Midway: a film by Chris Jordan


Both elegy and warning, Midway explores the interconnectedness of species, with the albatross on Midway as mirror of our humanity.
                                                                              -Chris Jordan

Watch the trailer, beautiful and heartbreaking. 
This needs to be seen: http://vimeo.com/25563376

January 1, 2014

Eve Ensler's TED Talk

Eve Ensler is a playwright, activist, and writer. Probably her most famous work is the Vagina Monologues. She is an advocate for raising awareness about and putting an end to violence against women and started the international V-Day, that has raised millions of dollars to educate about and stop violence towards women. She has done a number of other notable things, which I will not attempt to portray here, but I encourage you to learn more if you are curious about this strong and inspirational woman.

This is her powerful and passionate TED Talk about the similarities between our bodies, our selves, and the world around us. Young girls are raped in war as we rape our mother earth for equally meaningless and petty reasons.  

A Couple Noteworthy Kickstarters

Over the past few months I have spent just a little time (okay, a little more than a little...) on Kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/) and I wanted to share two particularly interesting projects that I found there. As of today, they are both fully funded with time to spare!

The first project is called Eli Skipp weaves representations of her brother's RNA. Eli Skipp, the artist, is representing the RNA of her brother and the cane toad (Bufo marinus) with frame-loom weaving. She represents each base in the RNA (adenine, guanine, cytocine, and thymine) with different colors (red, yellow, blue, and green) in the weaving.

The comparison between her brother, a life-long lover of toads, and Bufo marinus she describes as being for private reasons, but that it is really speaking to the two halves of sides of her brother, and that they are both in fact him. This is interesting to me with respects of our connections to nature, whether you think of spirit animals, affinity with a certain type of animal, or the evolutionary memory of being one with nature. I digress.

Philosophy aside, I really appreciate this project for another reason as well. Skipp has found a really interesting way of representing scientific data through art. The RNA data simply dictates the colors in a weave. What does this do to the meaning of the weaving? Does it help people relate better to science, or does it make them more curious about it? Upon seeing the brother's RNA aside the toad's RNA will the similarities or differences be more obvious? Will it make it tangibly obvious what is the difference, or lack there of, between being a human and being a toad? I am curious to see this project completed. As a work in progress I think it has significant potential.

Skipp has other interesting projects and art as well. To find out more check out her blog and website:

The second project that I would like to share with you is called The Bicycle Diaries: My 21,000-mile Ride for the Climate. David Kroodsma has a masters degree in interdisciplinary environmental science and now works as a data journalist and a climate consultant/researcher. More to the point, Kroodsma went on a 21,000 miles journey, on a bike!

I have had dreams of doing things like this, walking to the Amazon or Alaska or Africa, but the closest I have come is various car trips collectively of about 15,000 miles (not the same). But what really sets Kroodsma's trip apart from my various adventures, and most other people's, is his mission. His strong concern about climate change fueled Kroodsma to center his trip on the idea of researching and teaching about climate change in the places he visited. He sought out interesting people and gave talks along the way, he researched how climate change affects the places we traveled through, and along the way, he gained a new perspective on how climate change is a global issue.

So, upon pedaling from San Francisco to Tierra del Fuego, what did he do? He wrote a book of course! I am jealous of his journey and inspired by his technique. What better way to connect with people, share knowledge, do the dirty work, connect with our southern neighbors who are far too often annexed by our politics, have fun, and bring back and then share his gained knowledge.

Kudos for fun and inspiring!

His next trip is going to be across Asia!