TrashTara : It Starts with An Inhale

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.

TrashTara’s Catch-All

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.

photo by Colby Cannon

 

 

 

 

 

Fire! Fire! Corals are Feeling the Heat!

Fire escape on 6th and Ave A

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.

Reef Madness

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.

 

Bimetals and Nature’s Survival Tactics

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.

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?

 

 

Crafthaus Exhibit and University of Oregon’s Full Spectrum

“I’m grading student work and who do I see? looking at me.” That was a welcome surprise tweet from @JessicaLeeGreen- University of Oregon professor, TED Senior Fellow, friend and colleague.

Restoring our Reefscape was posted by Shelby Adkisson. The Full Spectrum Biology blog is being created by students in the courses Population Ecology and Biological Diversity at the University of Oregon. It is one component of their work, and for each course will unfold throughout the term. +Jessica Green

Crafthaus curator, Greg Corman, created an online exhibit, Sculpture for Wildlife Habitat. It will be up from June 8 – July 8, and then the images will be in their archive.  For the love of bees, birds, seas…very earthy. 1970’s meets the 2000’s.

Living Cities

The growth of Biorock mineral accretion sculptures in the ocean conjures up images of cities; not only are architects fascinated by the building potential of culling limestone minerals from seawater to create incredible evolving formations, but anyone thinking about habitats of all kinds imagine how they will accumulate life and generate tributaries of interaction.  Coral cities, urban landscapes, seascapes…whether visible or invisible, the concept of efficiency, necessity and organic mystery can come together in a city.

This living wall in de zeen magazine about “biological concrete” is an example of how biological growth is becoming an integral part of contemporary buildings. Ecology is fundamental in the design.

Living walls

New concrete that captures rainwater to create living walls of moss and fungi

 “The material lends itself to a new concept of vertical garden, not only for newly built constructions, but also for the renovation of existing buildings. Unlike the current vegetated façade and vertical garden systems, the new material supports biological growth on its own surface; therefore, complex supporting structures are not required, and it is possible to choose the area of the façade to which the biological growth is to be applied.”

The carbon sequestering, living adornments may soon flourish, bringing nature and urban together for you to pause at the emerald and chartreuse skyscrapers on a busy street.

Addendum – A New York Times article, The Beauty of Bacteria, by Julie Lasky on January 16th, takes us even further towards the vital and fantastical Emerald City.