Snowflakes : COP13 Blue Economy

Over 200 countries are represented
Over 200 countries are representing at COP13 at Moon Palace in December 2016

Do you know about COP13? It’s going on now in Cancún. Lots of great friends are there now, as I write this, working to inspire policy shifts and governmental support for important environmental initiatives, including many for water, carbon, wildlife, and sustainable development all under the big umbrella of biodiversity.

One friend happened to be in just the perfect place at the right time to hand her Healthy Reefs for Healthy People report card for 2015 to President Nieto himself. He stopped to look through it and listen to her 30 seconds of whatever brilliance naturally rolled from her mouth. That’s it, can’t beat face to face. Very proud of all those deep in the sea of it making things matter up the food chain!

I had hoped to participate somehow. What a big honor to be invited by MAR Fund  to present coral restoration work alongside 3 other women coral scientists in Mexico and Belize at this special event about securing well-being in the Mesoamerican Reef through a Blue Economy.

The program chock full of inspirational work
The program chock full of inspirational work

It was this Monday, December 5th at the Cancún Convention Center.

I made sure to be early enough, catching the public transport van (colectivo) from Puerto Morelos to Moon Palace where the COP13 main events are held. Arriving at 3:05, plenty of time to hitch a ride to the resort by 3:30. Soon a construction truck driver with supplies stops. I check it with myself. Feels like a fine situation. I talk about the work with corals to ensure we were all on base about the amazing ocean and reef life here…He has to drop me off at the main entry so they can grill me on where is my badge? Great question. I’m here for a side event.

Soon another ride takes me to the campo de golf to catch a golf cart to the registration so I can get my badge and make it to my 3:30 event.

Arrive with the “Creative Cancún” truck (party planner doer) to the golf carts. Next comes nice long windblown ride through the palm-lined paths to the tent to register.

What?! The Convention Center is in CANCÚN! Nice, it does say Cancún in this email invitation I now see and agree. I’m in the wrong place and it’s now 3:30. Uff. Completely missed that detail on the invitation since I let my assumption that it was at Moon Palace rule the day.

Someone from registration kindly introduces me to resort staff to help me think about how to get a taxi downtown at the far end of the Hotel Zone for a reasonable rate, not an easy thing. At that very moment a friend and Saving Our Sharks collaborator on our ROVing the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef OpenROV expedition walks by. I give him a hug of relief and find out he made the same mistake. Excellent! We can talk politics while heading back in the golf cart to his car.

Driving to the Blue Economy event, we catch up on projects, where our collaboration is at, and future steps. Again, nothing like face to face. All those group whatsapp messages and emails sometimes congeal like snow flurries into a slushy ball and only when you are together can you pluck out the unique water crystals needing individual attention before they melt and we forget that the water could even have ever looked as magical as that singular water flake…It’s like that.

Snowflake captured by Russian photographer Alexey Kljatov
Snowflake captured by Russian photographer Alexey Kljatov

This image was found in this piece by Huffington Post about macrophotography of snowflakes by a singular artist, Alexey Kljatov.

Corals and snowflakes – the tropical and not-tropical forever linked by water and dynamic patterns reminding us that everything changes. We know so little from looking at the surface of things. As an artist, I peer through my imagination and intuition at every mystery that drifts by…and guess what? I just heard a lot of action going on outside this coffee shop where I’m getting some wifi. I’m facing the wall in my own bubble, and turns out there is a big Christmas Snow Bear event RIGHT behind me in this Cancún mall. Surprise. Frosty snowflakes and humid tropical coral-lined peninsulas connect in Plaza Las Americas.

 

 

OpenROV in Quintana Roo

Just launched our expedition on Open Explorer. Hugely grateful to David Lang, Fellow TED Fellow and co-founder of OpenROV, for helping us to receive a grant to play with this new toy and tool.

Please follow along at ROVing the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef!

OpenROV 2.8 Mini Observation Class ROV
OpenROV 2.8 Mini Observation Class ROV

We’ll be ROVing in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico, starting in June. Very excited about this new Caribbean adventure with so many incredibly fun, caring, and brilliant people. Lots of complex ecosystems and biodiversity at stake, so we want to build momentum to protect and nurture our interdependence and learn from the past, present, and daily future.

I was just asked, so here you go~ ROV means remotely operated vehicle. Part of the Robotics glossary: An underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) is a mobile robot designed for aquatic work environments. Remote control is usually carried out through copper or fiber optic cables.
We should be receiving our ROV kit by end of month with hope to go out on first run to celebrate a birthday. Building an ROV and observing underwater life with loving friends – super way to begin a new year!!!

 

 

 

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.

FundacionAitana3web
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.

FundacionAitana4web

 

 

 

International Women’s Day

FullSizeRender
Future Woman – Making a Fish

For this day, March 8th, I posted this update to kickstarter about ZOE and some other life events. It’s a day to celebrate and honor the creativity and powerful motivations that well up within the women all over the world. May great things may be born.

ZOE Reef reFORMed in Mexico in progress
ZOE Reef reFORMed in Mexico in progress

 

ArtCOP21 ZOE Reef reFORMed

Before I arrived in Mexico late December 2014, I was already anticipating COP21. I had marched with the Climate March in New York in September, and am in the wave of humanity doing something to address and reduce our carbon crisis.

My initial aim was to work with interactive technologists to projection map ZOE, our Living Sea Sculpture in Cancun, onto a unique building in Paris during this important Climate Change event. With a live-streaming webcam from View Into the Blue, not only would people online be able to tilt, pan, and zoom to observe and interact with our underwater project, we would interpret the visuals and the data, incorporate animation and effects, bringing this DNA-inspired coral reef ecosystem into the conference to reflect our dynamic ocean-human interface in dire need of attention and direct action.

When the Monterey Bay Aquarium invited me to be part of their Art and Climate Change campaign leading up to the conference, I was thinking it would be great if our plans to install ZOE in the sea the week of December 7th-11th would go through, synchronizing our coral regeneration work here with the mass global intention rippling across the planet. Working with Karla Munguia, a documentary filmmaker with years on Animal Planet, gave us some comraderie around conservation as we made this short video.

Corals here in Mexico have been feeling the heat this year. Bleaching is happening all through the region. I had a good talk with one of my collaborators at INAPESCA about what they are discovering recently. With so many variables, including an intense influx of sargassum seaweed since May, the usual onslaught of improperly treated sewage, and other contaminants from development, and the added heat this year, they see rises in algae and bacteria that severely affect the immunity and health of the corals, large and small. It is a big mix of damaging ingredients, and yet, resilient corals stay strong and are dominating communities where less hardy strains are deteriorating.

I’ve been designing the layout for planting 10 native coral species we would like to populate onto ZOE once it’s installed in the ocean. It’s exciting to envision how they might grow, and how other organisms and fish will come to animate the habitat. Just as I was getting ready to make a photoshop depiction, Somyaku found me through Instagram. He’s a kindred spirit, passionate to create beautiful and functional coral habitats with a reverence for closeness with nature and a desire to express our creativity in harmony with living beings. Here’s one of his renderings of ZOE with corals
. ZOE was made in 2011. This is an actual photo of the completed sculpture (on land) taken by Mike Gerzevitz and now being immersed digitally for us to imagine.

ZOE-Fi_edit-FULL_TRUE-wm_2MB(1)-1Somyaku’s background in Ikebana ties with lots of concepts I’m having lately about my Bauhaus Design training at UCLA – this layering of schools of thought and practice that are our heritage and how they all intersect in the field of Art as Ecology. I’ll share more about that fusion in another post. Back to COP21…!

We joined #ArtCOP21 through their online events all the way from Mexico. People everywhere are making art and statements, fueling the tide for renewable energy and a healthier world based on awareness of finite resources, cycles, and our dependence on Earth. Our ZOE Reef reFORMed project (you can see us if you zoom in over Cuba on their map) came together really quickly with the most amazing people. Truly grateful to Miranda Oriz at Centro Bek for spearheading the “coalition” to help us create art and educate kids about the science in time for COP2. Our inaugural workshop on December 10th was successful. Kids and their parents were invited through this collaborative project into longterm solutions for healing coral reefs, to participate in protecting and rebuilding our vital connection with them and all Life.

TEDxCancún

Sunrise in Cancún
Sunrise in Cancún photo Colleen Flanigan

September 18th, 2015 was the first ever TEDxCancún. It took Mónica Alba and her team 4 years to get the license because there was some doubt at the top that Cancun is a “real city,” not just a Spring Break party destination. It definitely is a developing place deserving of critical thinking and ideas worth spreading. From the cenotes to the sea, to birth, communities, entrepeneurs, tech, there is a lot of growth and desire for intelligent change.

I was honored to be among the speakers (my talk is live now). It gave me such a warm sense of belonging, especially since I had a flicker of a thought about having a TEDxCancún back in 2011 when I was here making the Living Sea Sculpture, now titled, ZOE. How sweet to participate in this amazing event while still awaiting permits to install ZOE into MUSA, the underwater museum (ok, we did get permits on August 21st, yea! but are now awaiting copies of permits..like fractals it goes on). It is nice to be seen for what you are working on even while in process of the process towards the perceived goal – coral refuge in the water with live-stream webcams. This specific project has taught me that growth is not a straight line, and I have had to forgive myself and others for missing deadlines that evaporate like steam.

TEDxCancún was Incredibly well organized, so many super volunteers, workshops for us speakers, celebrations…I was moved to tears at the end by how hearty it all was because of the passion, generosity and commitment of the leaders and dreamers who made it happen. Initially, I went to the first planning meeting with Mélina Soto, Elisa Lopez Garcia, and Mónica Alba. I was excited to gather information from other organizers so they could prepare their speakers and volunteers. Lots of good energy builds up around these events, and you want to dive in. What a happy surprise when they asked me to speak! Grateful to be acknowledged and have the opportunity to tell my story about the “Symbiosis of Corals and Tango.” I tangoed in with Mario Oswaldo of InfecTANGO. Tango dancing was my metaphor for coral restoration, partnerships, and the journey of ZOE as an art and science collaboration. Over the top nervous this time, I wanted to practice and be truly present on stage so that I could enjoy, improvise a bit, and connect with the audience if possible. I had all the support in the world writing my words, rehearsing, and when I got on stage, there was calm and spaciousness inside. I could see all my words coming from the script while still able to think and react without losing track or being blinded by some adrenaline shock of white light. What a dream to feel solid and ease after so much inner struggle.

photo María González
photo María González

I am still in Mexico, here in quiet Puerto Morelos. Have been here with some trips away since late December. We have mineral accretion tank experiments going on since May to bring more of the coral scientists into the process. I love learning about the corals and how the electrolysis works; lots of variables and keeps me engaged with what I am so passionate about while the permit dance has been ongoing for ZOE.

…Something about being in Mexico has made me shy away from blogging. I don’t know why. I have been learning Spanish and wanting to stay in the moment with being here. And there is a lot of heat… yet, none of that explains why I shy. There is no excuse, so back to TEDxCancún! I hope you will visit their site in a month to see the talks.

The sunrise at the top of the page is my view on September 18th thanks to TEDxCancún and Secrets of the Vine. What a HUGE gift to have room service and such care while I was stressing and needing the love. It made all the difference to be well-fed and pampered by the friendly hotel staff. And again, all the TEDx volunteers who treated us speakers with glowing respect and joy, handholding and soothing. I was embraced by their presence. I can’t thank them enough!

Scouting el Sitio

Hola!

Scouting installation site in Punta Nizuc. photo courtesy of Ray Santisteban

I arrived here in Quintana Roo on December 28th. I wanted to experience my first Mexican New Year’s Eve, an advance celebration of ZOE installation into el mar. Date still to be determined, but as director, manager, producer, artist, my job is to find eternal internal resources to keep saying, “We aim to install __________ .” (put upcoming month in the blank.)

It’s a huge country, so I won’t generalize my New Year’s Eve on the beach and roaming through streets of Playa Del Carmen with new local friends as representative of Mexico, but it was a special moment to release the floating fire-lit balloon into the sky with Grecia Goretty, Ricardo Rubio, and Gerar Orozko Astigarraga envisioning what I hope the new year holds. Looking up to the stars into the past present future with wonder and soft sand between my toes, I watched my wishes dissolve into the dark sky.  About six hours later, I welcomed the first red rays glazing the sea.

New Year’s Dawn. photo Colleen Flanigan

Yesterday I went with Raymundo Santisteban of The Stills to measure distances for the underwater installation of ZOE and to take photos and video of the area for our team and supporters. The location for the sculpture will be about 100 meters from the dock at Nizuc Resort and Spa.

Looking towards the resort. photo Colleen Flanigan

The water was really clear for us to see the natural reef close to the installation site. This is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the 2nd largest barrier reef after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Coral Reef at Nizuc Resort and Spa. photo Colleen Flanigan

These native corals represent species we’ll be transplanting onto the coral refuge. It’s a pretty subdued palette, think conservative, fashionable interior decor, including some porites porites, gorgonians, staghorn and elkhorn, among others. The fish spending their time here will come swim by our habitat, too. Not only is ZOE for coral, it will attract many species of marine life looking for new homes where coral reefs have been disappearing. Reefs provide habitat for 25%-30% of marine species, so providing life support for them and reducing deadly environmental stressors, like pollution, is essential to the health of the entire ocean.

ZOE will attract these and other fish. photo Colleen Flanigan

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Bio-Art

I was invited to Genspace the other night to listen to a lecture by Ingeborg Reichle, Art Historian, and Pinar Yoldas, Artist-Researcher, although at one point she said, “I am just an artist,” during the Q&A when the focus had turned to activism to end plastic pollution and policy discussions.  I felt her frustration, or it was my frustration, about someone saying that her work was “whimsical,” and therefore a less impacting or meaningful way to address our current situation in the toxic plastisphere nurdle soup that Captain Charles Moore and others have been revealing since the late 90’s.

With so much plastic in the ocean that “there is more plastic than plankton,” Pinar has been designing an Ecosystem of Excess complete with all kinds of imaginary organisms that feed on plastics.  I asked if she intends to work with geneticists to realize her creatures, and she said she’s interested…it’s a complicated reality and I don’t think she or any of us take the plastic situation lightly . There are researchers and actual microorganisms already evolving along with the progression of enormous masses of synthetic waste in the ocean.  With so many shapes and sizes of plastic host bodies everywhere, how can life not take advantage of this opportunity to mutate and migrate?

My take away is that so many of us creative beings are being asked to get stuck telling people to change, as if activism has only one face: telling people a problem and what to do about it. But what is static about life and innovation? We need to allow for paradigms to shift and hope that fearful feelings of insecurity about the future lead to breakthroughs.  There are many ways to shift perspective and expand the conversation while maintaining grounded in the confusing possibilities of every day.  Listening to your own visions and inner voice in this time of rapid climate change is crucial.  How else can we bust out of traps of collective blindness and work through the denial and guilt to get to new discoveries?  Pinar was not highly positive about the situation; she is an activist shining light on a serious issue, but she is doing it in a way that brings beauty and horror together through artistic, visionary skill. Making the work is therapeutic for Pinar. Watching our oceans become wastelands is too tragic to handle without an outlet.

Recently I asked for more water in my plastic cup on an airline.  The flight attendant took my cup and said, “I’ll get you a new one,” as if she was doing me a favor when I wanted to use my perfectly good plastic cup. Since airlines are such huge carbon polluters, it seems like such an easy thing to have people reuse their cups.  At coffee shops, why not bring in your own cup and get rewarded with a discount?  All of this policy rule stuff has no appeal for me, though, as a career.  It drives me nuts, so I need to do something else with my fantasy for a healthy world.

I don’t like getting stuck in feeling guilty and overwhelmed. It’s too righteous and blocks the flow of imagination to keep learning and bringing new ideas and solutions into form so that more and more people can choose how to build the now that will become the future.

A man in the audience asked if Pinar could build a huge plastic reef with 3D printed corals that could survive climate change.  I couldn’t help it, I plunked my sample chunk of Biorock from a project in the ocean onto the chair by him.

Biorock® sample cross-section taken from an underwater sculpture in Bali © 2004

Later we talked a bit about how there is already one process with electrified steel reefs that intentionally addresses the environmental stresses threatening corals. While talking to Ingeborg about plastic pollution and oceans, she introduced me to two professors from the National University of Mexico, Mexico City.  They offered to look into locations and partners for art and science coral restoration projects in Mexico.  The evening had many layers of organisms interacting, from science fiction microbes to modern day humans doing what all life does, connect and spread ourselves into the world through thoughts, words, and actions.

Today I’m in the middle of my second day as a co-create resident artist at IMC Lab + Gallery.  I’ll be working on alter ego TrashTara – Compassionate Deity of the Dregs culminating in a photo/video show resulting from interacting with the public on the streets thanks to a grant from LMCC, and Respire: The Coral Corollary, a multi-sensory interactive installation correlating human health with coral health through the context of artificial respiration and life support.  Genspace will be helping me with some fluorescing dead bacteria for TrashTara’s headdress to avoid using plastic resin as a translucent material in exchange for the latest in bio-arts. Plastics, with their consumer model of planned obsolescence, were once considered the best thing ever, and people got out of control with that. I really have mixed feelings about genetic engineering, but for this small-scale project, I will see what I learn and keep sifting through all the difficult choices.


Captain Charles Moore – Seas of Plastic Ted Talk

 

Reef reFORMed

Welcome the Year of the Horse!

A big year for travel. And all you Oxes working so hard in 2014, it will pay off.  Watch out, Rats, not to get under any hooves.   And as a Pig myself, I’m glad I didn’t know 2013 was supposed to be horrible for me because it was great in so many ways.

 

Here we see coral propagating like a Chinese New Year’s fireworks show. Watch it Grow on the 1″ scale model of a Living Sea Sculpture soon to be installed in Mexico.

January 28th was TEDxSpence, a youth event in Manhattan.  An inspiring day of talks and workshops with super girls at the school.  Below is the 3rd version of Reef reFORMed in New York.  I wanted to capture the improvisational sculptural installation, so tried low-tech time-lapse for the first time with iStopMotion on an iPad.  The 7-9th graders opted for 6 second intervals.  Here’s what happened in a couple hours~

 

Electrolyisis: Etching in Saltwater

Electricity and water – they say to keep them apart, but sometimes they are great conductive partners for creative projects.  On November 10th, I’ll be teaching a hands-on class, Electrolysis: Etching Tins with Saltwater and Electricity at Pioneer Works, Center for Art and Innovation, in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  They have great art shows and concerts, unique events all the time, a beautiful outdoor garden gathering place, plus lots of intimate small classes.  The exhibition galleries are constantly morphing and there are many talented artists in residence pushing the edges of materials and concepts at this vibrant space.  I love it there!

There’s room for 8 students in my class, so please sign up while there is availability.  This Steam Punk blog shows what we will be doing during the one day workshop.  If you want to etch without using toxic chemicals, this is a good method to try.  I will share a bit about Biorock as well, since Living Sea Sculptures use electricity through water, and I can’t really help myself from discussing this biological art and science interface made possible by chemistry and electrons. I look forward to this mini art lab where we bring traditional, tactile methods of making together with contemporary technological tools to simplify and detox the process.

The drawing below is not an etching, but it makes me happy today thinking about the details in the ocean.  You could etch that.

"Ocean Details," pen and ink on tile by Colleen Flanigan