Whenever you think of coral reefs dying, think of what types of pollution you are creating and you have a reverse recipe to really help. Just do that less.
Whenever you think of coral reefs dying, think of what types of pollution you are creating and you have a reverse recipe to really help. Just do that less.
I wanted to make an art installation on 6th street here in New York’s East Village. Using the Gossamer community crocheted and needle-felted reef, I would attach the textile corals and fish to the white undulating fire escapes, like Biorock sculptures, and project video of underwater coral reefs onto the building. Live music would play. Perhaps the instrumentalists would be on different levels of the fire escapes immersed in their steel boats adrift like such unusual organisms populating the sea.
So many ideas and projects run through me all the time related to corals and how to convey their beauty and their endangerment, their need for life support and healthy habitat, and of course, OUR need for them. When my dog walks me down a new street, it often seems as if he’s guiding me to a place or a thing to spark my imagination that unites urban life with nature’s presence, such as the idea I just described for Fire! Fire! Corals are Feeling the Heat!
What about an app that responds to your geolocations, where it appears that fire escapes, bridges, and other inspiring architectural forms are accreting with minerals, colonizing with corals or oysters, and marine life? I really want to put my energy into creating the living sculptural reefs and nurseries in the ocean, but while I’m in the city, I can’t turn off my inner vision of all this aquatic fluid atmosphere that permeates my mind. And once we get the webcams onto the sculpture, ZOE, in Cancun, the resulting projections and live feeds will tie in positively to this evolving land and sea revival experience that will hopefully lead us away from this grim end as described by scientist, Charlie Veron, in Iain McCalman’s new book – The Reef: A Passionate History (reviewed by Rob Nixon in the NY Sunday Times)
Without an abrupt decline in greenhouse gas emissions, “there is no hope of reefs surviving to even midcentury in any form that we now recognize. If, and when, they go, they will take with them about one-third of the world’s marine biodiversity.” Bearing witness to this gradual annihilation, Veron concludes, is “like seeing a house on fire in slow motion.”
A consuming conflagration metaphor. I can’t have Veron’s prediction take hold in my mind or it throws me off center and off my positive focused trajectory, but perhaps politicians, businesses, big corporations, and anyone unaware of the true bottom line, will start to listen and begin cleaning up dirty industry if a renowned scientist points this gun, already smoking, to their heads, threatening their homes with this horrifying image.
If the message stating that all is already lost gets louder than the message inviting you to think of how to get involved, what effect does that have on you? What combination of lightness with darkness motivates shifts in behavior and values? I can’t tell you how many times I meet someone who assumes corals are doomed based on hearing snips about bleaching and acidification. They smile and share personal stories or offer strategy when I tell them that from pollution to restoration, there are things that CAN be done. It isn’t time to pretend the house is already burnt to the ground and just stand there drinking beer on the sidelines like you might be doing this month watching the World Cup. (What a finish for Portugal last night tying in the last seconds!)
Seriously, Veron does say “slow motion,” and that’s an opening for optimism in the midst of despair. If that somehow gives the endangered animals more time to adapt and people more time to develop new energy, rescue activities, and to stop injecting sewage, fertilizer, and carbon into the sea, it remains to be seen what 2050 holds. My concept of the fire escapes with the corals growing over was to symbolize both the urgency and the potential to escape the heating oceans caused by climate change. To find a way out of the burning building into the air to survive the disaster.
Additional note for perspective, I recently read the book, Reef Madness: Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz, and the Meaning of Coral. The “coral reef problem” illuminated how recently we had no idea about how coral reefs are formed, and it intimately illustrates just how controversial and political scientific theories and quests can be, then and now. How egos take the stage and discoveries are intertwined with layered cultural and societal beliefs and systems. Some philosophies and styles are in the process of dying off; it’s like new species of understanding, expressing, and technology emerge with evolution and that directly impacts our ability to see and discern our reality. Even though corals create bone-like stone, our ideas and assertions about them are much less solid. There’s space in the world to explore working together to escape the “fires of hell” and create cooler, collaborative coral conservatories that will teach us much more than we know now.
It’s my birthday. Not Living Sea Sculpture’s birthday, Colleen Flanigan’s. What did I wish for? I wished that I would continue to only pay attention to signs of love and stay wide open to all the good around, and that the Living Sea Sculpture in Mexico would be installed.
First wish is totally happening! Second wish is on its way. I’ve been communicating with individuals and people in organizations every day as I intuit and research who to reach out to next to clear the path into the sea for ZOE (previously titled DNA Dividing). MUSA has a new executive director who has offered some assistance, and the founders of the underwater museum were supposed to be meeting last week to add “more efforts.” The Mexican Consulate in New York, the Tourism Board, people who know people in Akumal and Cancun, Oceanus in Chetumal, The Nature Conservancy, The World Bank,…I am reaching out to complete this exciting chapter for coral colonies that has been filled with politics and slow steps towards economic, social, and ecological transformation.
Which makes me jump to yesterday. I went on a birthday art outing with a friend to see Kara Walker’s, “a Subtlety,” or “The Marvelous Sugar Baby,” made of sugar at the soon to be demolished Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
This political, visual homage to mistreated humans is poignant to our present day humanitarian desire to create healthier relationships with other species and our living environment. It might seem like a stretch, but for me and many others who want to restore dying ecosystems and think big picture long term, abuse and disrespect of a group of people in many ways is similar to abuse and disrespect of other species and natural resources; both are perpetuated by the greed and pervasive ignorance of “authority.”
At this free exhibit, open through July 6th on Fridays and weekends, thousands are flocking to see the sculptural sugar interpretations of people who were repressed and treated as commodities by others lording over them with calculating, callous power. This large-scale public work would have been impossible to imagine as something to be accepted, let alone publicly and culturally honored, 40 years ago. Change happens fast. Change happens slowly.
Kara describes the work:
“An homage to the unpaid and overworked artisans who have refined our sweet tastes from the cane fields to the kitchens of the new world on the occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.”
For the sake of metaphor, we can insert other species into context as the “artisans”: those who are not being seen for their worth. With so much red tape and destructive human forces killing without conscience or logic, when in the 21st century will society reach critical momentum to recognize ourselves in other living beings, and then take it a step further, and make decisions with their well-being in mind? Steps forward and steps back, all along the winding path there are those who operate from places of love, trust, and ambitious equality.
Many artists fall into that lump. Art emerges from imagination linking concepts, emotions, skills, and materials. It is largely underestimated and undervalued in all its forms, even though it is the medium that can reveal multitudes of meaning and guidance because its essence is sensing, “seeing,” and expressing with impact.
Through this carefully planned, impressive construction, Kara Walker molded a story of a painful history of repression and offered a unique form of care and respect. Witnessing the sugar – it was saying a lot in silence – I was not so subtly reminded of where we come from, and where we can go if we choose. I felt levity in the space, possibly because so many of us never knew this specific era personally, and possibly because of all the white light and visitors. I was in awe at her monumental work built from our sweetener to shed light on a dark secret.
Seeing them from space, I mean. That’s what I want to do. This week I was thinking about proposals for projects in countries I’ve never visited, and that sparked an idea. Immediately I reached out to a coral scientist friend, my go-to with these queries:
Do you know a way to see a satellite view of reefs in a large area and get info about how the reefs are doing?
To clarify: If I want to see the aerial view of surrounding waters around an island or coastline, let’s say in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and determine which areas were/are optimal for reefs yet are damaged or dying? Or areas that might be susceptible to erosion and have declining reefs? An aerial survey, yes.
I’m envisioning something like Google Earth where you can zoom in or out, get info about the corals/biodiversity below… I want to use that to help with proposals for a project. It would be so helpful to target the locations that are most likely to benefit and which have ideal conditions and communities in place for it to succeed as a long-term ecological work.
The only thing that I am aware of that could do what you are describing would be NOAA’s Coral Watch website. They have Google Earth maps that let you see where all of their monitoring stations are located along with data on reef health. It is limited to places where NOAA has placed instruments and so won’t give you coverage in countries like Dubai or Abu Dhabi. I’m not sure what you have described exists yet, although it would certainly be a very useful tool.
One of the major problems with coral reef conservation is that there doesn’t seem to be a unifying international body that collates and then summarizes and distributes all of the data from various countries. The US has NOAA, Australia has the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), etc., but no one group organizes and displays these data on a global scale. Best attempt is the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), but even they don’t have what you are describing in terms of web based visualization tools. Seems like a great idea whose time has come. The technology to do it is there, just need some group to come forward and try it.
Cool. I sat on it for 2 days and then saw this article in the NY Times about using satellites to find looted art from WWII.
You know, seeing this article, yet another shout out to your amazing, effective, and high impact satellite work, Sarah, I wanted to see if your mapping techniques could be useful for global imaging of coral reefs the world over targeting where they are dying? (and thriving) Maybe hone in on holes or conditions that make it clear that the area was once populous with dense coral, or maybe it has only recently been hit by disease or bleaching…Love insight from your perspective and expertise.
As Andrew’s email says below – the time has come, the tech is there. As a rep of coral biology and cutting edge scientific research in that realm, he sees how useful it will be. Just need to make it happen.
Coral ecosystems are still enigmatic, and the people depending on them, ready to study and work with them in a more coordinated and focused way, would really benefit from the full monty.
Reading about your work being used to save art, very close to my heart:).. and to study the endangered corals this way,,,super inspiring and hopeful.
I’d be happy to send some refs to you – this is totally outside my remit, but I have seen some satellite work on the subject. I am 100% focused on my archaeology projects, but I do supervise students in my lab who work on diverse subjects. Should any in future mention this to me as a project idea I will get them in touch!
The answer: The time has come, the tech is there, just need someone to launch this global coral space mission.
I was invited to Genspace the other night to listen to a lecture by Ingeborg Reichle, Art Historian, and Pinar Yoldas, Artist-Researcher, although at one point she said, “I am just an artist,” during the Q&A when the focus had turned to activism to end plastic pollution and policy discussions. I felt her frustration, or it was my frustration, about someone saying that her work was “whimsical,” and therefore a less impacting or meaningful way to address our current situation in the toxic plastisphere nurdle soup that Captain Charles Moore and others have been revealing since the late 90′s.
With so much plastic in the ocean that “there is more plastic than plankton,” Pinar has been designing an Ecosystem of Excess complete with all kinds of imaginary organisms that feed on plastics. I asked if she intends to work with geneticists to realize her creatures, and she said she’s interested…it’s a complicated reality and I don’t think she or any of us take the plastic situation lightly . There are researchers and actual microorganisms already evolving along with the progression of enormous masses of synthetic waste in the ocean. With so many shapes and sizes of plastic host bodies everywhere, how can life not take advantage of this opportunity to mutate and migrate?
My take away is that so many of us creative beings are being asked to get stuck telling people to change, as if activism has only one face: telling people a problem and what to do about it. But what is static about life and innovation? We need to allow for paradigms to shift and hope that fearful feelings of insecurity about the future lead to breakthroughs. There are many ways to shift perspective and expand the conversation while maintaining grounded in the confusing possibilities of every day. Listening to your own visions and inner voice in this time of rapid climate change is crucial. How else can we bust out of traps of collective blindness and work through the denial and guilt to get to new discoveries? Pinar was not highly positive about the situation; she is an activist shining light on a serious issue, but she is doing it in a way that brings beauty and horror together through artistic, visionary skill. Making the work is therapeutic for Pinar. Watching our oceans become wastelands is too tragic to handle without an outlet.
Recently I asked for more water in my plastic cup on an airline. The flight attendant took my cup and said, “I’ll get you a new one,” as if she was doing me a favor when I wanted to use my perfectly good plastic cup. Since airlines are such huge carbon polluters, it seems like such an easy thing to have people reuse their cups. At coffee shops, why not bring in your own cup and get rewarded with a discount? All of this policy rule stuff has no appeal for me, though, as a career. It drives me nuts, so I need to do something else with my fantasy for a healthy world.
I don’t like getting stuck in feeling guilty and overwhelmed. It’s too righteous and blocks the flow of imagination to keep learning and bringing new ideas and solutions into form so that more and more people can choose how to build the now that will become the future.
A man in the audience asked if Pinar could build a huge plastic reef with 3D printed corals that could survive climate change. I couldn’t help it, I plunked my sample chunk of Biorock from a project in the ocean onto the chair by him.
Later we talked a bit about how there is already one process with electrified steel reefs that intentionally addresses the environmental stresses threatening corals. While talking to Ingeborg about plastic pollution and oceans, she introduced me to two professors from the National University of Mexico, Mexico City. They offered to look into locations and partners for art and science coral restoration projects in Mexico. The evening had many layers of organisms interacting, from science fiction microbes to modern day humans doing what all life does, connect and spread ourselves into the world through thoughts, words, and actions.
Today I’m in the middle of my second day as a co-create resident artist at IMC Lab + Gallery. I’ll be working on alter ego TrashTara – Compassionate Deity of the Dregs culminating in a photo/video show resulting from interacting with the public on the streets thanks to a grant from LMCC, and Respire: The Coral Corollary, a multi-sensory interactive installation correlating human health with coral health through the context of artificial respiration and life support. Genspace will be helping me with some fluorescing dead bacteria for TrashTara’s headdress to avoid using plastic resin as a translucent material in exchange for the latest in bio-arts. Plastics, with their consumer model of planned obsolescence, were once considered the best thing ever, and people got out of control with that. I really have mixed feelings about genetic engineering, but for this small-scale project, I will see what I learn and keep sifting through all the difficult choices.
Captain Charles Moore – Seas of Plastic Ted Talk
I was recently in Mexico again. From Cancun to Akumal to Isla Mujeres, I was working on clearing our way to install the DNA-inspired sculpture into the ocean. I brought a friend and technical adviser, Jennifer Indovina of Tenrehte, along to help me scout out the best locations for wifi and power sources since we are now going to be adding webcams to this coral, fish, and biodiversity refuge. She is building a custom website so you will be able to watch the evolution of the coral reef ecosystem as a virtual aquarium.
I rented a camera to capture some of the underwater life and to document potential sites for this sculpture or possibly future ones. We were swimming out from shore to look at the set up for the TurtleCams they have in Akumal Bay,
and that’s when green turtles began to appear right below us. They were grazing on the sea grasses. I didn’t know what to expect of their behavior. They had a very casual easygoing style. From my short experience observing, I’d say they are calm, mildly curious, and like to socialize with their other grazing companions. When they swam up to the surface for gulps of air, they glided like graceful, slow-flying birds. They seem like gentle beasts that have become trusting from so many tourists, yet are not interested in interacting in any way.
Busy finding food under the butts of each other and saddled with scavenging fish on their backs and bellies, the turtles brought peaceful inspiration as I admired their beautiful shells and daily activities.
The area needs a new sewage treatment plant, which is one of the reasons the water gets so murky. If you visit the Yucatan Peninsula and stay at a hotel, ask the managers if they deep inject their sewage. Long story, but water treatment is a huge issue in Mexico. Corals are much more sensitive to certain pollutants than humans. The movie, Angel Azul by Marcy Cravat, does a beautiful job sharing about the pollution through the intersection of art and science working for the environment in the underwater museum, MUSA. She started with the story of artist, Jason deCaires Taylor, and like any good detective, she followed emerging clues, piecing together a puzzling and illuminating truth about our unsustainable systems and areas ripe for transformation.
It has been almost 3 years since we made the DNA sculpture in Cancun, so it was slightly bittersweet (chocolate) to see the steel sculpture making cameos in the background at Puerto Cancun as Jason’s and other cement sculptures were being deployed by boat. More sweet than bitter, actually, since I was so moved by the excellent filmmaking and knowing all the people and places in it. It made things even more real. I’m committed to completing this project and to growing relationships in the region through this journey. The sculpture is not in the water yet because of complications with land permits for the power source, but the ecosystem of diverse, caring people involved in this important ecological story is evolving, and so are our visions. A few years isn’t that long in geological and bureaucratic time. BUT, since I’m a human trying to help save corals dying at rapid rates~ IN THE WATER IN 2014!
Welcome the Year of the Horse!
A big year for travel. And all you Oxes working so hard in 2014, it will pay off. Watch out, Rats, not to get under any hooves. And as a Pig myself, I’m glad I didn’t know 2013 was supposed to be horrible for me because it was great in so many ways.
Here we see coral propagating like a Chinese New Year’s fireworks show. Watch it Grow on the 1″ scale model of a Living Sea Sculpture soon to be installed in Mexico.
January 28th was TEDxSpence, a youth event in Manhattan. An inspiring day of talks and workshops with super girls at the school. Below is the 3rd version of Reef reFORMed in New York. I wanted to capture the improvisational sculptural installation, so tried low-tech time-lapse for the first time with iStopMotion on an iPad. The 7-9th graders opted for 6 second intervals. Here’s what happened in a couple hours~
I just received an email asking about the potential for Living Sea Sculptures in Florida.
“Living here in Sarasota, FL, I’m wondering if a Bio-rock reef would increase the fish populations that dolphins and porpoises eat, and therefore would keep them here so that we humans could see and appreciate their majestic beauty more often. I believe we have dwindling populations here now. Have to talk with some marine biologists here… am in initial thinking about how an art-sci project could catalyze and galvanize the community on this issue. Perhaps it’s planting more mangroves that we need, while also educating public on benefits of “zero-scaping” to stop fertilizer run-off from ocean-side lawns. Any thoughts on the benefits of Bio-rock sculptural reefs here?
My response: I would LOVE to work on more projects in Florida. It’s a great place to expand the current approaches to coral nurseries and integrative ecological healing, community interaction, and local economy. There is an existing project, the first coral reef fisheries habitat and restoration project using Biorock mineral accretion in the US, installed in 2011 at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. The Global Coral Reef Alliance worked in collaboration with Vone Research and the Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Commission to create this unique site powered with solar buoys.
This video shares some of the ideas and theories motivating the project. I talk with marine biologists and scientists often to gain up to date information about the state of coral and ocean health since there are so many variables at play when considering climate change, acidification, resiliency, and adaptation. Amidst the differing opinions and uncertainties, one thing seems to stand constant, restoring reefs and cultivating coral with awareness of their biological needs as they relate to environmental stressors are critical pieces of the present day foundation to build future coral reef ecosystems.
The Biorock process allows us to realize dynamic, organic compositions with living organisms in the fluid sea as a means to nurture a sense of belonging and place high value on loving action to heal the polyps and their beautiful colonies. With more sculptural reefs and less fertilized lawns, Florida will invite more fish and dolphins to their coast.
On this New Year’s Eve, I want to share the thrilling news that we’ve received funding to add webcams onto the DNA-inspired sculpture in Cancun, Mexico. When we install the sculpture into the ocean, we plan to live-stream the artistic coral refuge so that it will have a continuous online presence globally for all to see.
Just for fun, here are the top 100 science trends from Trendhunter. Bees are really proving to be the saviours of our time. And be sure to stay clear of MRI’s in that magnetic dress! I’m not too keen on my snacks recognizing me, but would love to fly and bite into some witch finger grapes.
May you have sparkly light and earthly deep combinations of things to look forward to and experience in the new year. I look forward to bringing you more (more frequently) idiosyncratic posts about life above and below the surface.
Wring out 2013 and ring in 2014 with the always funny and ballsy, Negin Farsad, right here. Cheers to you!
You know how your brain gets attuned to looking for whatever you’re interested in, focusing on, paying attention to at the time. I’ve been collecting awareness about artists who are creating objects, materials, buildings, and facades that defy a static existence. The Stone Age is long gone. I might belong to The Bronze Age, since I feel more ease with metals than micro-controllers at this point, but it’s too staunchly stationary and solid for me without the inclusion of elements suggesting life, if not actually alive.
Movement combines with responsive materials to redirect our present relationships with climate, energy, other species, and our own cultural humanity.
Doris Sung works with bimetals that react to temperature, thus appearing as though they are living leaves following the light. Her architectural piece, Bloom, aspires to redefine how our living spaces function in the age of “finite” resources and infinite ideas.
Elaine Ng Yan Ling’s latest series of smart textiles reflects the changing seasons. “As nature takes its course, Wooden Skin and Macro Wooden Velcro shift shape and color to create an organic responsive environment. Layers of veneer are combined with fabric, reactive dyes and reflective surfaces to create objects that adapt to fluctuations in light, temperature and humidity. This new series, CLIMATOLOGY, is inspired by nature’s invisible energy and how materials can adapt to be more resilient and relevant.”
Jennifer Darmour of electricfoxy offers current trends in wearable technology and product design. When I saw the little 3D printed wearable planters with tiny succulents, I paused because “aaw, cute,” and for awhile I was making escargrows out of shells from Helix Aspersa snails that I collected to eat from the garden. The small calcified spirals were perfect for creating succulent planters, too. And they were created by living 3D garden mollusks printing out earthy minerals over a number of years.
Which makes me think about 3D printing and how it’s a blind spot, or a stepping stone? in our technological trip to democratic making. The usual plastics are not somehow becoming better for the environment just because the possibilities for incredible forms are seductive, yet there are 3D printers for cement, ceramics, biodegradable plastics, and whatever other living tissues for making bones, kidneys, and hearts, so hopefully the innovation is leading to something that collapses our love affair with circuit boards and non-biodegradables into a full circle, self-composting realized potential.
With 4D printing touting self-assembly, I imagine that I cannot imagine how the organic, synthetic, bio-mimetic engineered fusion will wrap around to chase it’s tail and channel this open loop of transformative creativity.
Skylar Tibbits introduces the self-assembling 4th dimension at TED LongBeach
Will the positive and negative feedback of less labor is more better somehow find a sum greater than its parts? Will the sum be less than the mean average of what the world can contain to sustain? These last questions don’t make any sense, but it FEELS like they mean something on our interconnected, technological space odyssey.
We live in the age of Smart Materials. I’m vividly curious about how we will continue to interface with data, programming, biology, and building to express the fibers of our mental, physical, and emotional galaxies. How close are we to printing Living Sea Sculptures that self-assemble in seawater?