Fundación Aitana Connects with Corals

FundacioAitana6webGustavo Navarrette and I arrived at Fundación Aitana in Cancún on March 19th to give our Zoe Reef reFORMed art and science workshop to the fabulous children, their nurturing families, and generous volunteers. As always, my favorite part is being drawn into the unknown and the surprising results. It is like watching something bloom in real time as we feel and see our way forward in each emergent moment.

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Making Papier-mâché corals

Everyone semi-consciously feeds each others’ curiosity to try different approaches to painting and creating. And the speed! Working in groups like this builds beautiful fluid momentum so that by the end of 2 or 3 hours, wow, so many corals and fish!

FundacionAitana17webConversations and laughter, it was really fun and inspiring to work with these kids who are cancer patients and survivors. Not once did it seem like anyone was ill, but they are at high risk and need local care facilities. Fundación Aitana is working to bring pediatric oncology to Cancún because they don’t have it. The families have to go hours to Merida, Cozumel, and beyond. This leads to huge expenses and deaths that could be avoided. Right now as I wrote that sentence I see a parallel with the corals, how they have diseases and need urgent care too. It is nice to have times where fun activities help us to enjoy and heal ourselves and other species in some way.  There is wonderful comforting connection in that.

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Prototypes for Coral Housing

Form is part of the formula for creating coastal community housing. Here we’re trialing  project housing (not necessarily low cost to produce, but readily available for marginalized coral communities) on small-scale so we can ramp up to meet the growing needs of the globe using a simple math equation:

~!^!~  + **^V^** + /\/\/\#<><>#/\/\/\ = <{*}(>>>)<

(form + volume + comfort = housing)

I arrived in Mexico with some steel screen that stirs my imagination for mineral accretion potential. I knew somehow I’d meet the place to play with it to make bumps on the flat mesh. Walking home the other day, I saw this place.

Carpenter shop in Vilas Morelos 1, Puerto Morelos

“I bet that’s the place,” I was thinking, as I almost walked in, but then, no, I kept walking. Next day I was walking past again just as a dumping rain began. I ran from the other side of the street to a tree, because you know how a tree will keep you dry when the rain is bucketing down. A young guy came out of the shop (I didn’t quite realize my perfect timing yet with the storm and my tree canopy attempt), and waved me to come inside.

And there I was. Inside. Martin, the carpenter who owns the shop (sorry I don’t know his last name) nodded for me to bring my metal and we could figure it out. Rain passed and soon I returned. Because neither of us are fluent in each other’s spoken language, I found it comforting to find materials and tools to try things and share the process of figuring things out more manually and with wordless ahas. The first attempt to carve domes was labor intensive and not successful.

Luckily we found holes! At the ends of tubes, on tools, everywhere and all sizes.

Pressing the screen into a tube hole to make bumps

In a dream recently, I used a hydraulic press to make the bumps, so it was a relief to discover that all we needed was our hands. Now we have a prototype with this material. Small or large-scale, finer screens and meshes have so much to offer the realm of building artistic and functional mineral accretion coral housing, breakwaters, and sculptures.

Form and texture for Biorock tank experiment

Imagine on a large scale, how will the corals and other organisms settle onto the bumps and valleys? How could we make really large forms with a hydraulic press or other machine? Or from multiple small forms all welded or woven together?

Who will settle on the inside of a tubular form? Which surfaces will gather more minerals?

Soon I hope to start an experiment with these prototypes at the government coral nursery in Puerto Morelos. Working with biologists, we can observe and cross-pollinate. They have systems for cultivating corals and are open to investigating new ways to offer best chances of survival. They want to see if corals do grow faster and how it effects their density. I’m excited to be working with the actual species that will be planted onto ZOE, a Living Sea Sculpture in Cancun, with the actual team of scientists that cultivate those species.

As an artist, I feel fortunate to be coming from a position of curiosity and freedom to research, express, and interpret. I am learning a lot about humans too, and the constructs we have built around our disciplines. Scientists tell me how dangerous it is to associate with the wrong scientists. How their reputations and theories are so carefully protected and boxed-in by the steely rules of SCIENCE. Peer-review and rigorous controls have their purpose, and their pain. I believe artistic investigators need to be part of scientific discourse so that new, sensory perspectives flow in and loosen some of the clamps of entrenched “reason.” Art and science collaborations heighten our intuition and create dialogue around the beauty and mystery seducing us to begin with…

Back to Martin – his daughter is in Ensenada, Mexico, the other side of the country, researching marine algae for cancer cures. His son is recovering from dengue fever. Through his craft and his children, we bonded for oceans and cures.

IMC exhibit

Respire 1.0 our first prototype

Respire 1.0 our first prototype

From the opening reception of the exhibit, TrashTara: It Starts with an Inhale on November 6th, until the closing reception on December 2nd, the Co-Create residency with James Tunick at THE IMC LAB + GALLERY continued in the backdrop. Unlike conventional gallery spaces, the 6th floor venue is a mixed-use morphing environment for artists and a few other small businesses to share. The Respire prototype and immersive installation truly gained a life of its own as James added interactive audio and visuals of data and living reefs projected onto the wall, ceiling, and kinetic sculpture.

Fellow artist-in-residence, Dan Baker’s, hanging art pieces made of retrieved plastic from local waterways were synced with data streams from an Alaskan tidal buoy in preparation for his upcoming exhibit, Ebb and Flow. A monitor showing the tides looked like an EKG. Though conceived separately, they added naturally to the concept and sensory media exploration. I brought over a small mineral accretion experiment I was working on at NYU in Natalie Jeremijenko’s XClinic to directly link coral health and innovation elements visually and physically to participants.

5 Gallon mineral accretion tank at IMC

Motion tracking was triggering the inhales and exhales of the Respire sculpture. The  electricity to the biorock mineral accretion tank was on the same outlet, so anyone moving in the space activated or deactivated the electricity; it was like watching life support go on and off. When the sculpture was idle, black and white images from iron lung artificial respiration projected onto the sculpture representing the bleached state of coral and the need for human action to restore vitality and prevent increased mortality. James and I will continue R&D to evolve the project, tying interactivity and effects more intimately with climate change, coral restoration and life support, and interdependent interspecies health.

And what about TrashTara? I had proposed to produce video and photos from my excursions to receive an LMCC grant. My first experience editing with final cut pro, it was a sweet feeling to observe the raw results, far from pro but close to my heart. Colby Cannon, Rob Bregman, and Dan Baker all gave me some quick tutorials. I grabbed poignant GoPro clips from my street outings together with some footage of me collecting butts day and night. Watching my selected snips of documentation linked together randomly led to a meaningful string of spontaneous interactions I had with people throughout Manhattan. I knew people would be receptive to cigarette butt recycling and pollution conversations if they were first uplifted by someone in a costume embodying a compassionate artwork. The face to face experience and kind moments were proof that impressions and attitude, perceptions and expectations are always operating consciously and subconsciously. Everything about the experience was socially enlightening for me and others, and hardly anyone I met knew that they could recycle butts in New Jersey at TerraCycle.

From EVGrieve blog post by Andrew (no last name)

TrashTara’s Butt Brigade Poster made in collaboration with Colby Cannon

The photo I used is from Scotland a few years ago when I was intrigued with arty butt shots before I was thinking about how that tiny remnant could harm marine life. NOTE:  I WANT $1 (or more!) to go towards coral restoration, but it is an ideal not yet real. Something to work towards.

Men of Sanitation NYC – TrashTara Knights

These guys made my night!

Perfect timing for TrashTara

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).

Matryoshka Principle. Steel, plastic, glass, paper, sand. 2014

The paper and the glass were used in this installation piece in the Manhattan show, TrashTara: It Starts with an Inhale.

Art and FILCO