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!

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

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.

 

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?

 

 

Underwater Cities – When?

Arup Biomimetics' Syph

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Coral Restoration: Chinese New Year

What’s colorful and reminds us that old and new, life and death, are inextricably bound together by the continuum of change?  Chinese New Year Day celebration, for one.

Dancer at Water Snake celebration in Chinatown New York

We have entered the year of The Water Snake.

Chinese characters for "Water Snake"

Intuitive depths, feminine wisdom, and transformation are possible associations with the year of the snake, as well as good business ability and reserved emotions.  Symbolism and mythology within historical traditions vary from region to region, and first-hand experience offers subtle rich surprises, like this beautiful new-fallen drift in Chinatown brightly adorned  with “snowfetti.”

snowfetti

I tried the various street food; how can you get 4 of anything for $1?!?  Didn’t get sick (not that I thought I would, but a friend was wary), and loved watching the women dance in outfits that reminded me of the brilliance of a healthy reef.

Dancer amidst the biodiverse crowd

It is a Water year – contemplation and healing actions from the calm depths are worth imagining.  According to Alison Rourke’s article in theguardian, “Deepwater corals may be key to restoring damaged reefs…”

Here in New York, I aim to make an interactive land exhibit that will correlate human health and coral health. After watching the magician and scientists yesterday at Brainwave: The Magician and listening to their explanations and demonstrations of deception (lies) and limited attention capabilities as the crux of successful magic and trickery,  I saw how the exhibit I’m developing is really about creating the perception of unity between the participant and the kinetic sculptures.  The sculptures are not actually living, but I want them to appear alive, symbiotically effected (dependent) on a human action and data. Just as the magician needs the audience to complete the mystery and suspend disbelief, to be washed over with happy bafflement, some art relies on specific constructs and concepts to open people’s minds to shifts in reality through the senses and fallacy of what we think we know to be true.  Art is often said to be a portal to truth, and now I’m thinking how certain special effects and technical mediums offer new forms of “magic” to contemporary art practices that I want to explore. But what about truth?

My day started out with ritual in a grand cathedral.

Cathedral of St. John the Divine. photo by Nat Ireland

Thanks to a friend, I was introduced to a magnificent architectural, cultural, and historical mouth-dropping feat of making. I can’t help that I spent most my time while there looking at all the windows (really? they need to be restored?) and the labor intensive cement castings, metalwork…It houses one of the most powerful pipe organs in the world!  Awe-inspiring environment – the space and the effort to create it was, for me, the magic and the spiritual gift as I flashed back to 1892 when its foundation was being laid… During the sermon I felt that truth was being suffocated with someone telling everyone what God is and isn’t.

Magic is predicated on deception, religion on truth (according to magician, Joshua Jay, yesterday). I got hung up on some religious hypocrisy,  but I knew that it was a celebration, too, of life, death, restoring and seeking.  I just needed to get into the sun and find the warm light of day and connect with playful exuberance: How lucky to jump into so many colorful and curious perceptions in a single afternoon.

 

 

 

 

Living Cities

The growth of Biorock mineral accretion sculptures in the ocean conjures up images of cities; not only are architects fascinated by the building potential of culling limestone minerals from seawater to create incredible evolving formations, but anyone thinking about habitats of all kinds imagine how they will accumulate life and generate tributaries of interaction.  Coral cities, urban landscapes, seascapes…whether visible or invisible, the concept of efficiency, necessity and organic mystery can come together in a city.

This living wall in de zeen magazine about “biological concrete” is an example of how biological growth is becoming an integral part of contemporary buildings. Ecology is fundamental in the design.

Living walls
New concrete that captures rainwater to create living walls of moss and fungi

 “The material lends itself to a new concept of vertical garden, not only for newly built constructions, but also for the renovation of existing buildings. Unlike the current vegetated façade and vertical garden systems, the new material supports biological growth on its own surface; therefore, complex supporting structures are not required, and it is possible to choose the area of the façade to which the biological growth is to be applied.”

The carbon sequestering, living adornments may soon flourish, bringing nature and urban together for you to pause at the emerald and chartreuse skyscrapers on a busy street.

Addendum – A New York Times article, The Beauty of Bacteria, by Julie Lasky on January 16th, takes us even further towards the vital and fantastical Emerald City.