VR – coral reefs

As one of the 1st of 60 artists-in-residence with Google’s Tilt Brush, a portal of awesome opened up for me! Immersed in a dark space, magical colorful dream world comes to life before your headset-wearing eyes with your movements. The “brushes” are a mix of markers, paint brushes, physical-feeling extruded light, audio-activated pulsating colors…it was such a great residency.

Playing with materials without any outcome in mind is so important to my well-being. Even with an idea in mind, letting the tools illuminate the way is a candy-colored high of inspiration.

Since the residency, I’ve been invited to create work as an impromptu, live performer for various events. Most of the time I’m in the flow of making something that is projected onto a large monitor in real time so the audience can see what I see. It’s a fabulous job and I hope to do more soon! One event was Virtual Tomorrow in landlocked Columbus, Ohio. How great to be able to create reefy scenes and talk with attendees and local tech team about corals and Living Sea Sculptures while so far from the ocean.

On the other side of the discussion, some people express anxiety about Virtual Reality. Clearly, VR has its distressing arenas, as with all tech innovation that leads to roads unknown. So, use it as a tool to highlight what matters to you. For me, that’s the coral reefs, marine world, surreal nature, and healing the environment that we all share through imagination, collaboration, and action. Being able to move in space and wave wands to create 3D worlds is magic.

 

Transplanting Coral

Please grow here Porites polyps!
Please grow here Porites polyps!

I published my first Instructable!! I was wanting to, meaning to, and finally, DID IT! I enjoyed it, and even more, I feel so happy to finally be finding my way to share more through the one-to-many approach. One-to-one is slow going when you are dealing with process, such as art, science, and tech to rehabilitate corals and experiment with new transformational innovation. Online tutorials and communities are obviously an organic, inspiring way to build the movement and momentum, to reach people ready and open to join in from wherever they may be.

Are you familiar with Adafruit?  When I heard Limor Fried speak on a panel at an entrepreneur conference in NY 2013, she touched a harmonic cord. At first she may have tried to focus on “her projects,” but she had to go with the flow and let go of trying to control the river, the ocean. Ladyada is contributing so much to culture, innovation, art, technology and creativity. Her specific goal is not welfare of wildlife and the environment, but with her products and open source, we can make leaps.

When people ask me to help them with mineral accretion projects, I hesitate about the voltage and set up because in my experiments, I don’t yet feel like I have a “kit” or component, open source element that will be the needed baseline for people to run with seawater electrolysis. This year with Zoe finally in the sea, I can devote more time towards building the global community and constructing new unique reefs that unite aesthetics and function customized for their location.

It would be a dream to work with the likes of Healthy Reefs and Coral Reef Alliance in Honduras to regenerate devastated coral reefs using state of the art design and generative tools, equipment, coral science, and bright impulses of imagination. We need MORE CREATIVITY FLOWING through ingenious teams who like to play and share their wide knowledge to impact the next generation of coral cultivators and ocean healers.

I just applied for my dream art residency to push these goals forward. I really want to tell you who offers this amazing residency, yet I don’t want to jinks it! I’ll let you know what happens.

Last preparations before installing Zoe in the sea
Last preparations before installing Zoe in the sea

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.

 

 

ONWARD! #givingtuesday #razoogivingtuesday16

Swimming past the livestreaming webcam
Swimming past the livestreaming webcam                                                        photo Colleen Flanigan

With the US presidential election making rough and freaky waves through the world of environmental and human rights, and everything else, I had to do something to lighten my heart and mind NOW. Usually that means I have to throw myself into work and focus. The sinking feeling and clawing at my eyeballs through the tears gets tiring.

I started this campaign today! Zoe – A Living Sea Sculpture is part of the #givingtuesday annual event which builds momentum and funds for causes at the end of the year.

Zoe within the 1st month
Zoe within the 1st month                                                                                   photo Colleen Flanigan

It feels wonderful to share the completion of our installation phase and the vision for monitoring, maintaining, and developing this project for the region and beyond.

Through this international collaboration, we want to help transform the destructive tourism practices locally in Cozumel and bring new creative energy for regeneration and biodiversity cultivation. Already the Sand Dollar Sports Dive Shop and others are moving that forward. Please check out our progress and plans here.

UPDATE : we only need to raise an additional $9450 by year end to receive our $12,500 matching grant from The Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature. That will bring us to our $25000 goal!

 

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

 

 

 

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!

On Our Radar

Respire – The Coral Corollary is acknowledged by Creative Capital’s On Our Radar through September 30th, 2015. Another highly competitive grant for artists, Creative Capital generously represents some 400 artist projects who made it to the 2nd or 3rd round of their selection process through their searchable database.

IMC respire1 from Colleen Flanigan on Vimeo.

This raw video I took one night while interactive technologist, James Tunick of The IMC LAB + GALLERY, and I were co-creating the 1st phase prototype of Respire gives a peek into our process for integrating sensor driven kinetic sculpture, audio, and video in an immersive installation. Also in this clip you can see the EKG-like screen which shows tidal data that drives the vertical movement of resin-covered plastic objects and bags found in waterways hanging in the background which were created by James Baker for his IMC show, Ebb and Flow.

My handheld shaky walk takes you to the small Biorock accretion tank with experimental mesh forms being electrified through seawater to precipitate mineral deposits.

photo colleen flanigan

The audio includes movie soundbites, something James Tunick explored. I had not thought about bringing voices into the project, so it was interesting to observe in myself and others how human voices and sci-fi memories stimulate a broad range of responses. I was also intrigued by his addition of morphing climate change and global graphics as surrounding projections. That is one of the best parts of collaborating, of course, trialing and riffing off of each other with curiosity as we dive into our imaginations, areas of expertise, and the unknown. Play and surprise is key.

Black/white video from actual iron lung footage in the 1940’s and 1950’s is spliced with vital coral imagery projected onto the “breathing coral” made with plastic bags sewn together over a steel sculpture to portray contrasts of vitality, mortality, and medical intervention. Breathing and movement of participants in the space, as well as ocean data, will continue to be the life force activating the exhibit.

In the next iteration, I imagine creating a very different feel and experience with the addition of an iron lung I purchased off ebay in 2012 so that the touring exhibit can more directly correlate to life support, concepts of technological advancement and cures for ailing coral reefs worldwide. Use of the ceiling has always been in the plan, and being in Mexico these past few months snorkeling and diving has shown me ocean illuminations that inspire how to bring a person in the land space to feel like they are in the sea, a sensory metaphor to being the coral. Whether you’re lying in the iron lung looking up after a “nurse” helps you inside, or you’re another observer interactor, I want to transport you, connect you with the non-verbal, fluid water animal that you are, breathing and reflecting, pulsing with a mysterious underwater corollary.

Geometries Patterns Music

Like Swirling Marbles, wind and current on the clear water distort the coral fragments below                                                                                                                                   photo Colleen Flanigan

I’m studying Spanish while here in Mexico, and had the fortune to meet Dr. ‘West’ Marrin in class last week. Through our raw Spanish conversation, we realized we had a mutual fascination with the ocean, not only in the macro sense, but in the micro, sonic, geometric, and chemical. We got lazy (or real) and spoke in English to discover we had a number of mutual friends and colleagues in common back in the US, and that Art and Science are core to our work.

As I’m developing new design ideas for Living Sea Sculpture reefs, sound waves of music  permeate. Music is the ultimate art form in its temporal nature yet eternal ability to effect us on a cellular and emotional level. We can always turn to a piece of music and be transported, moved, energized, saddened, hyped…the waves of sound are powerful, and of course, the ocean waves can take you under, take you somewhere far away, or lull you to sleep. How are sound waves of music and waves of water related, both the physical movement, the structural components and geometries, and the concept of rhythms and cycles.

West Marrin was a guest contributor to SciArt in America last June with this article, Functional Art and Water Science p.34 (scroll to p.18 in the pdf at the link). As a proponent of the genre, Art as Ecology, I am invested in raising the bar for functionality of art forms to the place where (once again) art is considered of equal value to math and science by world leaders and in the classroom because someone at the top realizes that without the ability to perceive your surroundings, discern the world with all of your senses, and imagine myriad juxtapositions and connections with your self as the common denominator, the common identifier that makes meaning to be offered to the world, then we as a civilization will erode powerful sensitivities and problem solving abilities within our species needed to evolve.

So back to the music idea before I rant about how much time, money, and resources are spent to produce a violent society rather than a creative and farsighted one.

“I envision combining a piece of music’s sound-waves with ocean sound-waves into a large sculptural coral reef. La Cumparsita, the last piece played at every milonga (tango party), is symbolic to me because dance is a well-known metaphor for life, and the idea of coming to the end of a fabulous time again and again and again at the end of each party, while we are facing the 6th mass extinction, there is something poetic, hopeful, and morbid united. Is it too far of a stretch to link the end of a dance to the end of a species? A dance that will happen again, but never the same. I want to embed that idea of the dance of life in a non-literal way, and music and sound epitomize that concept. Something transcendent or essential…Breaking down this narrative of cycles into sonic visual patterns for the purpose of regenerating endangered coral reefs and biodiversity through art and science investigation gives me a ground and rhythm to engage with such complex abstractions and information.”
That was part of my email to West today, to which he replied, “…As far as the rhythms of tango and the cycles of nature, they have a common source that is inherent in everything from the regeneration of coral reefs to the birthing of galaxies. All are based on the same fundamental geometry of nature that is expressed spatially as patterns and temporally as rhythms.”
And so, I’ll keep recording live music with my iphone. I like to watch the sound waves while envisioning a living reef composed of musical algorithms with the help of Autodesk software and scientific consultations into a score tuned for the sea.

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.

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

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coral Reefs from Space

Seeing them from space, I mean.  That’s what I want to do. This week I was thinking about proposals for projects in countries I’ve never visited, and that sparked an idea.  Immediately I reached out to a coral scientist friend, my go-to with these queries:

Do you know a way to see a satellite view of reefs in a large area and get info about how the reefs are doing?

To clarify:  If I want to see the aerial view of surrounding waters around an island or coastline, let’s say in Dubai  and Abu Dhabi, and determine which areas were/are optimal for reefs yet are damaged or dying?  Or areas that might be susceptible to erosion and have declining reefs?  An aerial survey, yes.

I’m envisioning something like Google Earth where you can zoom in or out, get info about the corals/biodiversity below… I want to use that to help with proposals for a project. It would be so helpful to target the locations that are most likely to benefit and which have ideal conditions and communities in place for it to succeed as a long-term ecological work.  

He says:

The only thing that I am aware of that could do what you are describing would be NOAA’s Coral Watch website.  They have Google Earth maps that let you see where all of their monitoring stations are located along with data on reef health.  It is limited to places where NOAA has placed instruments and so won’t give you coverage in countries like Dubai or Abu Dhabi.  I’m not sure what you have described exists yet, although it would certainly be a very useful tool.

One of the major problems with coral reef conservation is that there doesn’t seem to be a unifying international body that collates and then summarizes and distributes all of the data from various countries.  The US has NOAA, Australia has the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), etc., but no one group organizes and displays these data on a global scale.  Best attempt is the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), but even they don’t have what you are describing in terms of web based visualization tools.  Seems like a great idea whose time has come.  The technology to do it is there, just need some group to come forward and try it.

Cool.  I sat on it for 2 days and then saw this article in the NY Times about using satellites to find looted art from WWII.

You know, seeing this article, yet another shout out to your amazing, effective, and high impact satellite work, Sarah, I wanted to see if your mapping techniques could be useful for global imaging of coral reefs the world over targeting where they are dying? (and thriving)  Maybe hone in on holes or conditions that make it clear that the area was once populous with dense coral, or maybe it has only recently been hit by disease or bleaching…Love insight from your perspective and expertise.   

As Andrew’s email says below – the time has come, the tech is there. As a rep of coral biology and cutting edge scientific research in that realm, he sees how useful it will be. Just need to make it happen.

Coral ecosystems are still enigmatic, and the people depending on them, ready to study and work with them in a more coordinated and focused way, would really benefit from the full monty. 

Reading about your work being used to save art, very close to my heart:)..  and to study the endangered corals this way,,,super inspiring and hopeful.

She says:

I’d be happy to send some refs to you – this is totally outside my remit, but I have seen some satellite work on the subject. I am 100% focused on my archaeology projects, but I do supervise students in my lab who work on diverse subjects.  Should any in future mention this to me as a project idea I will get them in touch!

The answer:  The time has come, the tech is there, just need someone to launch this global coral space mission.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Turtles Tortugas in Akumal Bay

"ZOE" at Puerto Cancun 2011. Photo by Mike Gerzevitz.

I was recently in Mexico again. From Cancun to Akumal to Isla Mujeres, I was working on clearing our way to install the DNA-inspired sculpture into the ocean.  I brought a friend and technical adviser, Jennifer Indovina of Tenrehte, along to help me scout out the best locations for wifi and power sources since we are now going to be adding webcams to this coral, fish, and biodiversity refuge.  She is building a custom website so you will be able to watch the evolution of the coral reef ecosystem as a virtual aquarium.

I rented a camera to capture some of the underwater life and to document potential sites for this sculpture or possibly future ones.  We were swimming out from shore to look at the set up for the TurtleCams they have in Akumal Bay,

TurtleCams power supply - A View into the Blue and teens4Oceans project in collaboration with Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA)

and that’s when green turtles began to appear right below us.  They were grazing on the sea grasses. I didn’t know what to expect of their behavior.  They had a very casual easygoing style.  From my short experience observing, I’d say they are calm, mildly curious, and like to socialize with their other grazing companions.  When they swam up to the surface for gulps of air, they glided like graceful, slow-flying birds.  They seem like gentle beasts that have become trusting from so many tourists, yet are not interested in interacting in any way.

Busy finding food under the butts of each other and saddled with scavenging fish on their backs and bellies, the turtles brought peaceful inspiration as I admired their beautiful shells and daily activities.

Swimming in Akumal Bay. Photo by Colleen Flanigan.

The area needs a new sewage treatment plant, which is one of the reasons the water gets so murky. If you visit the Yucatan Peninsula and stay at a hotel, ask the managers if they deep inject their sewage.  Long story, but water treatment is a huge issue in Mexico. Corals are much more sensitive to certain pollutants than humans. The movie, Angel Azul by Marcy Cravat, does a beautiful job sharing about the pollution through the intersection of art and science working for the environment in the underwater museum, MUSA.  She started with the story of artist, Jason deCaires Taylor, and like any good detective, she followed emerging clues, piecing together a puzzling and illuminating truth about our unsustainable systems and areas ripe for transformation.

It has been almost 3 years since we made the DNA sculpture in Cancun, so it was slightly bittersweet (chocolate) to see the steel sculpture making cameos in the background at Puerto Cancun as Jason’s and other cement sculptures were being deployed by boat. More sweet than bitter, actually, since I was so moved by the excellent filmmaking and knowing all the people and places in it.  It made things even more real. I’m committed to completing this project and to growing relationships in the region through this journey.  The sculpture is not in the water yet because of complications with land permits for the power source, but the ecosystem of diverse, caring people involved in this important ecological story is evolving, and so are our visions.  A few years isn’t that long in geological and bureaucratic time. BUT, since I’m a human trying to help save corals dying at rapid rates~  IN THE WATER IN 2014!

To the Future. Photo by Colleen Flanigan, 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ring it in wring it out!

On this New Year’s Eve, I want to share the thrilling news that we’ve received funding to add webcams onto the DNA-inspired sculpture in Cancun, Mexico.  When we install the sculpture into the ocean, we plan to live-stream the artistic coral refuge so that it will have a continuous online presence globally for all to see.

Just for fun, here are the top 100 science trends from Trendhunter.  Bees are really proving to be the saviours of our time.  And be sure to stay clear of MRI’s in that magnetic dress!  I’m not too keen on my snacks recognizing me, but would love to fly and bite into some witch finger grapes.

May you have sparkly light and earthly deep combinations of things to look forward to and experience in the new year.  I look forward to bringing you more (more frequently) idiosyncratic posts about life above and below the surface.

Wring out 2013 and ring in 2014 with the always funny and ballsy, Negin Farsad, right here. Cheers to you!

Algae Buddies of Sustainable Now Technologies. Photo by Colleen Flanigan

 

 

 

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.

Skylar Tibbits introduces the self-assembling 4th dimension at TED LongBeach

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?

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Breathing Sculpture

U-Ram Choe creates artworks that capture an aliveness and qualities of graceful organisms by using metals, plastics, and the latest in computer programming technologies. Based in Korea, he is inspired by…

I started this post awhile ago, but perfectionism, thus procrastination, got in the way.  I promised to write a post once a week, and it has been a month since I last posted.  I am going to post whatever I write in these next 10 minutes knowing full well that edits and revisions are important for certain clarity, but what if sometimes I can just share whatever is on my mind and be more real and in the moment, as if I’m in casual conversation.

I had a major artcrush on this sculpture that I sadly missed seeing when it was on view at the Asia Society here in NY last year.  There is an Iran Modern show opening there today that looks interesting.  You have until January 5th to visit.
I reached out to U-Ram in an email because his video, with the music and caring way it was filmed, I felt like I could touch a bit of what I want to bring to life through a project.  I imagined taking a trip to Korea to visit his studio and meet his creative team.  It was a moment of feeling like you have found kin through an inspirational expression of matter.

The work I’m developing is different in form and content, except for the fact that breathing and making something inanimate seem alive ties them together.  His mastery of mechanics with those fluidly undulating gears.  What can I say?  It’s ultra sexy metalwork.

If you are not familiar with this incredible artist’s works, you can find more about him here.

 

prehistoric to present – forests from the trees

Tree of 40 Fruit, 2008 - present

Recently I was at an event where a beautiful tree by artist, Sam Van Aken, was being auctioned off to benefit Creative Capital. It was not in full flourish yet, but still a young green leafy growth with 20 varieties of stone fruit grafted: a technique whereby tissues from one plant are inserted into those of another so that the two sets of vascular tissues may join together. This vascular joining is called inosculation, and allows for asexual propagation of related species.

The process takes years for Sam to work with his plants to cultivate these sculptures that have a life of their own.

Sam with one of his hybrid trees, 2013

Here is a description, in his own words, about this hybridization and interdisciplinary project.

 The Tree of 40 Fruit is an ongoing series of unique hybridized fruit trees. Blossoming in variegated tones of pink and white in spring, through a process of sculpting by way of grafting and pruning, each tree in this series has the capacity to grow 40 varieties of fruit from the family of stone fruits including peach, plum, apricot, nectarine, and cherry, and will reach an approximate size of 20’ tall with a canopy of 20’.

 

The Tree of 40 Fruit are allegorical sculptures. As a symbolic number found throughout western religion, culture, and government, the number 40 symbolizes the infinite, a bounty that is beyond calculation. Like the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, these trees are a potential; they are the beginning of a narrative that transforms the site they are located in. The far-reaching implications of these sculptures include issues of genetic engineering, biodiversity versus food monoculture, and, ultimately, the symbiosis of humankind’s relation to nature. 

 

One of the most challenging aspects of the work is the planning or envisioning of how each graft, time of blossom, and fruiting will change the aesthetic and balanced quality of the tree. It is at this point that the process becomes sculptural. Nature poses a challenging collaborator. Where a bronze sculpture would provide an easier ally, working with living material can be temperamental. But it is this living quality that I feel gives the tree its greatest impact and potential.

 

The innate challenge of attempting to effect an aesthetically directed and functional “lifestyle” for multiple organisms without overshadowing nature’s voice within each tree is a microcosm of the perennial, universal quest for balance in uncertainty.  This is the same story with Living Sea Sculptures.  Although I have yet to begin “pruning” the aquatic topiary-like forms, I’m thinking of how to bridge the divide between destructive human desires, needs, actions and constructive organic ecosystems. Artists who work with other beings that don’t speak in words are blurring the lines of art, science, and technology as they develop interspecies projects and dialogues.  I’m in awe of the quiet partners, since they’ve been around for so many thousands, or millions, of years, and in relation to them, we are Earth dwelling novices exploring their unique reproduction and life-giving bounty.

Now, to share a quick look into our ancient tree-lined past.  In case you haven’t heard of the primeval forest in the waters of Alabama, it dwarfs our relatively new research into collaborating with living nature.  Buried for years without Oxygen, it has persisted with its Cypress smell intact.  In 2005, Hurricane Katrina most likely ripped back the protective layers of sand and sediment to reveal this 50,000 year old forest.  One person suggests it has been in the ocean for 12,000 years; most accounts I find say it is estimated at 50,000 years old, but as you see in the video, it is not long for this exposed world.

Something about unexpected ancient forests surviving in the ocean juxtaposed with a 40 stone-fruit forest springing from one tree…I can’t stop thinking of Thoreau’s quote that I saw this past week while helping a friend wrap up his mother’s, Barbara Rothenberg’s, artwork at her studio.

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”- Henry David Thoreau

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.

First,  Miyoko Shida’s performance for the Spanish TV program “Tú Sí Que Vales” (“You Can Do It”) Enough said.  (But did you wear your sunglasses?)

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.

 

Pinning Inspiration

When I recently saw a ficus leaf mineral thru an electron microscope on pinterest, it reminded me of this piece from about 15 years ago. When I made it, I’d never seen a ficus leaf mineral, but I love how interrelated so many forms and patterns of nature appear to be, whether you’ve ever seen them to influence you or not.

Catching Glimpses in the Gloaming, 1998. Crocheted copper wire, cast silver dogwood blossoms, fake eyelashes, fake fur, steel wire. Photo Courtney Frisse

“I can’t even look at it,” ran through my head whenever I would see the little pin it icon. “Pinterest is going to distract me from important things.”

But now I’m coalescing Nature Patterns onto a digital board that kind of tweaks the in-love chemistry in my brain.  Pinning before bed has catalyzed beautiful, vivid dreams; something about the free associative process of following this intricate thread of visual networks is soothing while stimulating creativity. To be able to float through images, seeing some things I never knew existed in the world, is like cranking the amperage on curiosity and getting a fascination fix.

Every time I pin onto this board, I’m adding inspirational matter for future Living Sea Sculptures.  As I gravitate towards images, I see a collage emerging; it’s a valuable personal palette made from the communal well of web surfing and discovery.  Microscopic bacteria, bike chains, textiles, lava flows, and biology on land and sea reflect and imitate each other as they assemble into rivulets, orbs, bumps and repetitions. Physical forces, changing pressure and process has resulted in these…these moments captured in photographs and stills.  Somehow there is motion and color telling a story, a lifelong history embedded in the pictures, and that wordless-ness attracts and suggests new models for ocean habitat.

Sculptural porcelain by Nuala O'Donovanj