I was walking back to THE IMC LAB + GALLERY now with a box of smashed grey tinted glass I just swept up off the street (my dog, Plum found it) thinking,”I still need ‘sand’ for the art show this week.” Shredded paper was my earlier thought, and there it was – 4 bags of thinly julienned paper. Exactly at that moment, these guys drove up to take it away as I was working out how to carry 2 bags, come back for 2, leave 2.. Me: Can I leave 2 and come back? Guy : Sure, but you have to come back or I’ll get in trouble. Me: Ok,..no, I only need 2.. He’s about to put bags into the truck. Me: Wait! I might need all 4… One guy: where are you going? Me: 6th…2 avenues. Guy: I tell you what, I just need to go around one more block and I’ll meet you on the corner of 22nd and 6th.
photo by Colleen Flanigan
And they even took my heavy box of glass. When they turned the corner at 22nd, it was like, I don’t know, getting picked up at the airport by old friends (with a garbage truck).
I was walking in the East Village with my dog, stopping for him to pee and for me to take a photo of a cigarette butt flattened in a crack in the sidewalk, when it struck me – are these recyclable? They’re everywhere. Beyond grabbing my attention for arty butt shots, they really shouldn’t be everywhere I look. Turns out, yes, they are recyclable. And that was it. I finally knew WHAT TrashTara would be collecting in her Catch-All…
Since late April, I’ve been a Co-Create Artist in Residence at The IMC LAB + GALLERY, owned by James Tunick and Carrie Elston-Tunick. Loving it! While here, I’ve created my latest alter ego, TrashTara, and been out on the streets of Manhattan. She/me has been hand-collecting those butts, the most littered object in the world, while talking to people and gathering footage with a GoPro.
TrashTara in Tompkins Square Park, East Village. Photo courtesy of Stanley Raffes.
Most people don’t know that cigarette butts are such a huge problem for the environment or that they can be recycled. After the last relaxing drag, there’s satisfaction in flicking them to the ground to roll their way into cracks, storm drains, and gutters.
Strom drain on Ave B in East Village
It needs to seep into the mainstream knowledge that cigarettes have non-biodegradable plastic filters, and that nicotine is a very toxic pesticide. Each butt could spend 10 years tossing around in the ocean and water supply killing wildlife and polluting ourselves. One cigarette butt can kill fish in a liter of water. TerraCycle has initiated placing receptacles in cities around the world, and inviting people to join their butt brigades to send in cigarette butts. I’d like to set up a TrashTara Butt Brigade so that every pound of butts collected by those collaborating with me will result in $1 towards Living Sea Sculpture coral reef habitat.
The tar-filled filters can be cleaned and transformed into plastic pallets, anti-corrosives for steel, and textiles. If we can get the 4.5 trillion of them off the ground and into the up-cycling circuit – I heard SF spends $11 million each year on cigarette collection alone – we can save lots of lives and money.
When TrashTara is out at night, her headdress, or as synthetic biologist, Oliver Medvedik, co-founder of GenSpace calls it, her “GMO Tiara,” has fluorescing proteins that come from corals and jellies. With the addition of Ultra Violet LEDs, the GFP and RFP glow. I wanted to avoid plastic resins, and am fascinated with bioluminescence and fluorescence in nature, so we collaborated to create a potentially controversial object. Synthetic biology is complex; the layers of ethics, philosophy, politics, and science involved in genetic research are many and divisive, so I’m grateful I had the opportunity to experiment with proteins as paints to get closer to the reality of how vast this field is and how the concept of “GMO” is completely unknown to most of us in a hands-on way.
TrashTara buttpicking in Gramercy
Also for the upcoming show, James Tunick and I have been developing the first prototypes for Respire – The Coral Corollary, an interactive, multimedia immersive exhibit correlating coral health with human health incorporating data, kinetic sculpture, audio and video so that through their senses and emotions, participants feel connected to corals, the living, breathing animals and plants that share our world with us and take care of us in so many ways. They need us to redesign how we perceive and intersect with their habitat if they are to survive. James is programming micro-controllers that sense human participant and ocean data to trigger responsive movement, lighting, and effects in the sculptures and space.
I hope you can come to the show! TrashTara will be at the opening.
Putting our heads together to solve the latest puzzle: Nizuc Resort and Spa is ready to house ZOE. Yea!! They want to celebrate it, publicize, make it quite happy with simple swank elegant parties for people of taste. Any issues with guests having to wear weird shaming bracelets to snorkel a few meters can be worked out with the government.
Cool! this is easy and delightful somehow, I’m thinking. And feels pretty loving, reminiscent of the blissful dream I had just before waking in which Roberto Diaz (pictured), Pres. of MUSA/manager of Aquaworld, was wearing a robe from the same fabric as a dress I got for this trip. We had our heads together in the dream and the feeling was that we were in love. Not IN LOVE like hot-I-want-YOU love, but that comfort that our hearts and minds, souls and hopes were wanting things to happen for the better of culture and conservation however that plays out. Somehow we were “wearing” our synergy.Cut to snorkeling – wow, this is damn shallow. Let’s just walk around on the sandy seafloor a bit figuring how to make the sculpture shrink or the sea level rise a bit faster. Not quite that shallow, but not much higher than the 2M of ZOE. How can we make this deeper? Clearly that IS the problem with this place. Gena Bezanilla, Executive Director of MUSA, was on the boat with us imagining how ZOE would look if it was half-size. Possible?
OK, let’s all swim around the other sculptures in MUSA, look at all pros and cons of this resort, and put Colleen in a BOB tomorrow to see if that area of Punta Cancun where there are already approved plans for a 3rd exhibition gallery for MUSA might be perfect for ZOE. It’s 18′ deep, aqua blue waters, snorkeling and diving, and the Park wants to regenerate corals in the area that was hit hard by Hurricane Wilma. (Apparently a 400 ton sunken ship was torn in half and thrown 100M. Serious Act of God.)
Roberto told me so much about his adventures since starting MUSA with Jaime and Jason in 2009. The moral of this very longass FB post: do it because you love it, Colleen. There is no glory, often no thanks, and who wants to be a quitter? Roberto is also a sculptor with a piece in the museum. I’m grateful for his sensitive, generous far-seeing soul. (She says before getting on an underwater scooter with a bubble on her head. I’ll let you know if I feel so warm fuzzy tomorrow.)
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.
"a Subtlety" by Kara Walker. Presented by Creative Time at the Domino Sugar Factory.
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.”
Kara Walker's installation at the Domino Sugar Factory
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.
"a Subtlety" by Kara Walker at the Domino Sugar Factory, 2014
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~