ZOE looks ahead in the midst of spawning and pollution

Aerial view of Gulf of Mexico

I opened my window just as we were flying over Punta Nizuc where we plan to install ZOE. There is a lot of ocean in the photo, but I was so focused on Punta Nizuc, it was a great surprise to see the reefs and aqua clear waters where we plan to put our coral refuge. Without Google-Earthing, I could get an idea of the broader seascape of the area. We plan to locate ZOE near the resort in shallow waters.  There are species of corals that like being very close to the surface.  Actually, while snorkeling in the area, the healthiest coral reefs seemed to be in the shallows.

Not far out from the dock is the site where we will anchor the sculpture.  The rest of my August visit entailed meetings with the Director of the Marine Park and the MUSA directors, as well as scientists at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México (UNAM) in Puerto Morelos to develop our proposal for a scientific research collaboration between Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP) and UNAM.  Growth monitoring is our main focus, as well as observing differences between neighboring natural corals and those on the Biorock® mineral accretion reef.

Autodesk has generously offered to come to Mexico to train us in their latest photogrammetry process, the cutting edge in 3D digital modelling.  They’ll train me, my team, including a group of university students, in how to capture the photos of our coral transplants and neighboring corals.

Coral scientist, Serguei Rico of UNAM, is working with me on our proposal to ensure ZOE is a conservation experimental project of the National Marine Park as well as a tourism attraction for MUSA.  He was telling me that another PhD student wants to start experimenting with taking photos to digitally model corals for monitoring coral growth as his thesis. As he was describing it, I couldn’t help but jump in and tell him that part of the project was to offer free training for just that! Perfecto.

Serguei has been following how corals have been effected by nitrogen run-off and other pollutants since the emergence of mega-tourism. Sewage from all those hotels along the Hotel Zone in Cancun and down the Riviera Maya is deep injected. It seeps into the aquifers and ocean causing corals to suffer new diseases.  There were only 3 inhabitants on Isla Cancún in 1970. Now there are over 722,000. With no treatment plants, you can see how this is an epic problem with all that untreated shit running into the sea. Corals are much more sensitive to the bacteria in sewage than humans, and the parts per million are well-beyond their standards.

While I was in Mexico this trip, I witnessed baby turtles being released on a full moon. (next post.) I wish I could’ve joined the small group of scientists watching corals spawn at night, but they want to protect the animals while they are making babies from too many intrusive people. I understand needing more privacy, and wanting to avoid the potential for humans to get crowded and bump into the reefs.

Sunset before spawning

Spawning gives a smokey milky appearance. Acropora Palmata aka Elkhorn Coral.

Endangered corals spawning in August, 2014

Spawning photos are from PN Costa Occidental de Isla Mujeres, Punta Cancún y Punta Nizuc.

The dream to plant some corals onto ZOE is getting closer to being realized.  Working with the scientists, meeting the resort manager, connecting with other artists who want to be part of the local team to install and create future works…It was a wonderful process and we took many steps forward.

Look closely and you can see where we plan to install as soon as we do.

 

 

 

 

we have moved next door!

Heading to Cancun Thursday. Time to mark the spot for ZOE’s ocean home at Nizuc Resort and Spa. Here’s one visitor’s view.

From DNA-Dividing at Club Med to ZOE at Nizuc Resort and Spa, transformation is on.  To get you up to speed – see the Living Sea Sculpture cover photo above? That is ZOE awaiting installation in Punta Nizuc from 2011. We were going to install off the beach of Club Med. Since Nizuc Resort and Spa only opened in 2013, they were not an option back in 2011. Timing!!

Roberto Diaz of both MUSA and Aquaworld (he’s a major doer) has been making things happen, and the government is being towed along with approving grace.  Cheers to Roberto!

And big thanks to María Antonia Gonzáles Valeria who I met here in NY at a Genspace event. She went back to Mexico City to see how she could help through her university, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).  She introduced me to a recent marine biology graduate focusing on corals in Pueto Morelos, Serguei Rico, who is ready to meet and see how we can work to appropriately appropriate enough coral transplants for installation with his department.  This is a big deal in Mexico – making sure we have the approvals since it is in a National Park protected area; corals are only available for projects after hurricanes, damage by boats, and through lab propagation.  I look forward to working with Serguei and Jaime, Director of the Marine Park, to ensure ZOE becomes a Living Sea Sculpture with endangered corals colonizing.

Steps!! More soon!

Birthday wishes

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.