Artists Envisioning Sea Level Rise

"You Are An Island," Artwork by Alicia Eggert. Photo Colleen Flanigan DUMBO Arts Festival, 2013

Two incredible friends, well, many more than that when you look at all the people who will be required to bring these epic public art projects into being, are putting their creative energy towards expressing the reality of sea level rise and flooding.  They are targeting urban places to interject something premonitory and visible. These artists are translating scientific data, personal observation, and human gut reaction into visionary humanitarian offerings.  Using very different formats, they are inviting people to reflect about the effects of climate change and water events that will flow and submerge all in its path.

Heidi Quante used to be Creative Coordinator for 350.org. Now she’s teamed up with artist, Eve Mosher, to realize HighWaterLine in multiple locations. In 2007, Eve felt compelled to start chalking the streets in Manhattan, “I marked the 10-feet above sea level line by drawing a blue chalk line and installing illuminated beacons in parks. The line marks the extent of increased flooding brought on by stronger and more frequent storms as a result of climate change. I walked, chalked and marked almost 70 miles of coastline. As I was out in the public creating the work, I had a chance to engage in conversations about climate change and its potential impacts.”  The fact that New York IS an Island, with highly deteriorated oyster reefs and no other sufficient breakwaters, makes it extremely vulnerable to storms, as experienced with Hurricane Sandy nearly a year ago.

Florida flood plains are being chalked this November, and London and Philadelphia are slated for 2014.  Florida is in direct line for hurricanes and floods, so Eve and Heidi want to empower the neighborhoods that will be deluged by giving them means to physically mark the estimated perimeter of the floods. The project is as much about process as result. The chalk marker is passed from community to community to feed the grassroots project. So many people don’t feel welcome in making important decisions, or on the flip side, they feel entitled to overpower.  This art is egalitarian. It creates a map in real space as a step to begin planning to divert catastrophe. The locals who will be directly affected are being given tools and ideas to further plot their own communally developed course of action in the case of disaster.  HighWaterLine is a feat of community organizing through conceptual, public art.

Lars Jan, Director of Early Morning Opera and a TED Senior Fellow, is deep into the making of HOLOSCENES, a large-scale performance installation intended for urban public spaces. In this video, watch someone try to make ramen in am elevator-sized aquarium while water fills and drains, driven by a hydraulic system capable of pumping fifteen tons of water in one minute.

“The man ‘making ramen’ is simulating a behavior documented in a 10 minute video submitted by a Japanese graduate student in his dorm in Tokyo.  This student is Shun Oka, previously my student at Swarthmore College.  Apparently Shun makes ramen nearly everyday, and I have to admit he has his own particular way of going about it.  There are more steps to making ramen than I could have ever imagined — very different from the instant version I associate with US college kitchens.  By the end of the first time I watched his video, my mouth was watering.  In turn, the creative team behind Holoscenes simulated this behavior and made our own video in which a figure is deluged repeatedly, but goes on making ramen all the while.  Though I find the video more ostensibly humorous than others we’ve made so far, I also find this submission from Japan particularly resonant given the intrusion of the tsunami into the everyday at Fukushima.” – Lars Jan

Watching the videos, I feel zen, not panicked.  It makes me want to practice getting out of a car if it gets tossed off a bridge in an earthquake.  Something about breaking the horror  into bite size vignettes is soothing and makes it possible to imagine the traumatic potentiality, or the reality for many along the coast, in a way that evokes the personal and mundane that is at the core of long-term design, viable approaches, and progressive solutions.

The beauty of the dancer -she looks like an hibiscus flower slowly blooming and wilting in a rain puddle- makes me breathe into my imagination and dispel any alienating fear that mucks up mental space.  Lars’ work delivers eye-opening information through new media and seductive interactive means so all individuals can claim their vital roles in balancing world ecology.

A young woman in LA who still uses a land line.

A young woman in LA who still uses a land line.*

Artists synthesize and relay layered multi-sensory experiences so adeptly.  These are just two examples of the growing cultural opportunities to recognize that both little and big actions are required to meet the future. Little acts really do have big impact to blow old paradigms out of the water.

With so many variables to consider, leaving things to the government, academic institutions, and people perceived as authority figures are common excuses to just wait and see, and then blame someone else, but with the US Government taking a break right now to squabble (embarrassing!), it’s a good time to remember the unique, often unsung, brilliance of our neighbors next door and online.  What amazing brain power and community will is within reach to calmly consider how we might respond when overwhelming storms forcefully release our most valuable, powerful resource  – water. (I’ll think about the sun in another post.)

"You Are an Island" by Alicia Eggert. Photo Colleen Flanigan DUMBO Arts Festival, 2013

*The sale of archival prints supports the continued development of the Holoscenes performance through 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

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