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.


Underwater Cities – When?

Arup Biomimetics' Syph

I’m talking about humans. Obviously there are multitudes of living cities made up of marine organisms populating and migrating to dwell in the sea, but will humans begin to colonize the ocean? Is it a good thing? A necessary thing? How will this exploration protect itself from adding to the demise of ocean and Earth health? Why is it taking so long?…lots of questions to think about on this frontier.

Ocean Cities are definitely part of the pioneering future. Both Trendhunter and Ecofriend featured the Syph above, a concept design proposal for a competition envisioning Australia 40 years from now.

I feel inner conflict between a sense of invading wilderness and striving to live in harmony with other species as we continuously sway the balance on our curious and precarious, uncertain path to sustaining biological evolution.  The trillions of dollars spent to manufacture, engineer, and execute methods to kill people illustrate that the financial resources are there.  From governments to wealthy private patrons, the desire has not been great to develop architecture and human habitat in the ocean.

Experimental short-term stays for science and education, as well as hotels,  have been emerging for over 50 years.  These carefully controlled environments could become prototypes for off-shore housing in areas like the Maldives that are likely to be the first victims of sea level rise.

According to BBC Future, visionary ocean explorer, Ian Koblick, was ready to bring on underwater habitats in the 1970’s.  Now at 74, he admits that it is not likely in his lifetime to see his futurist vision realized.  He is the owner and co-developer (with Neil Monney) of the Jules Undersea Lodge, which used to be the La Chalupa Research Laboratory, also developed and operated by Koblick, to study the continental shelf off the coast of Puerto Rico.  From scientific investigation to contemporary tourism and mainstream ocean outreach, this habitat has served diverse populations of many species.  It is an example of what might be possible if more interest and demand for underwater cities grows.

The conservationist in me meets up with the visionary progressive and hopes for more conscious exploration and development for this still young field:  Pioneering not to conquer, but to cultivate new biomes in the ocean.   It is another provocative dance between technology and survival for so many species on this burgeoning planet.


Balance in Action

As an artist, you are always seeking to be amused and amazed.  Well, I am.  Not necessarily conscious of that constant quest, but when I see, hear, touch the THING, I KNOW the thing. This is it! This is the quality or sensation I desire to bring into my current work; here is how someone else has expressed it. For a minute, I was going to compare it to finding the perfect dress for shoppers (men, you KNOW what I’m talking about), but with meeting inspirational work of art also comes the deep understanding of the how, why, who that reinforces my determination and connection to being physical and developing my capabilities to transform myself and matter through action.  It isn’t so much about having something as it is about feeling met by the sublime.

For me, my problem-solving and filtering for process and materials to make projects never truly shuts off.  Some projects are concept driven, others process, and usually a combination of many interlacing overlapping connections.

So I want to share a few recent things that move me with such power of their grace, tenacity, skill, and beautiful wisdom in form.  And I say “things,” but within those things is the human maker and the essence of their being channeled into matter before you.


On May 12th, it was sunny and people of all ages wished me Happy Mother’s Day.  Never had that before, but was receptive to the joy splash.  I met with a friend at Madison Square Park to see the labor-loving work of Orly GengerRed, Yellow, and Blue.

Red, Yellow, and Blue by Orly Genger photo by Colleen Flanigan

The red is washed out in this photo by the overexposing light- it truly is Ruby red in person- but you can see the detail of the 1.4 million feet of hand-crocheted lobster-ropes that took 9,000 hours over a 2-year period to wrangle. Impressive forms and fortitude.  I stood there imagining if these were made out of steel and electrified. They could accrete with minerals to become incredible breakwaters and marine habitat. It would be good to insert some openings, water passages, so that flow-through would be possible, slowing currents while preventing the massive force slamming into a solid wall.

Red, Yellow, and Blue by Orly Genger. photo Colleen Flanigan

The slim tree branch above arcs to mirror the thicker waving wall below.  Did Orly do that on purpose?  Probably. She and her team certainly took time to stand back and look at what they were doing from all angles before and during the composing of this landscape masterpiece.

Red, Yellow, and Blue photo Colleen Flanigan

Even though not actually moving, there’s obviously motion in this work- in the large and small wriggles, and in the making.  As Orly says in the The New York Times, “It was more about using my body as the tool and having a direct relationship with the material.” I feel the same way. As I write this, I flash back to my most recent experience being so fully free and communicating through my senses and physicality with materials.  It was this May, for a few brief moments, with some large flexible cable and sheet metal for a pop-up art installation.  (I’ll do a post on it soon!)  It was not nearly enough time or energy invested in what she is talking about, though, that kind of physical artwork so satisfying because of the resistance and the forces acting together to blur the lines of who is really living- you or the material.  Once you are holding and working with a weighty material that in a way has muscles of its own, you see and feel how IT is working with you, as well. There is no real master or servant.  Physics and poetry allow you to become one energetic emergence.

Red, Yellow, and Blue photo Colleen Flanigan

And as Miyoko exemplifies in her performance with those lighter pieces, she needs to be centered to balance.  Sometimes what looks so steady and seamless is dependent on a feather and focus.  Both of these artists create peace and serenity through hours and hours of practice, patience, and commitment.  They give us a moment or more to contemplate balance in action and power in silently offered passions.

I said I was going to share a few things, and I only have time for two today.  Two more coming up soon!  Plus the post about the pop-up art show Reef Re-Formed: A Biorock Simulation.


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.