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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Blue Beyond Borders

I arrived in New York last weekend to explore potential projects on the east coast. Already, I’ve connected with the ocean and river people to discuss work post-hurricane Sandy, pre-washaway city.  Biorock is readily applied to oysters, mussels, and seagrasses to develop natural permeable breakwaters a la oyster reefs of yore, those bastions of resource and health as depicted in An Oyster in the Storm, by Paul Greenberg.  With such a loss of oysters – providers of shore protection and toxic filtration – innovative methods need to be implemented and advanced, while destructive actions need to be reduced or halted altogether.  At the International Conference on Shellfish Restoration in Mystic, Connecticut, this past December, the Global Coral Reef Alliance and their partners presented their results “Electrical Current Greatly Improves Oyster and Saltmarsh Growth and Survival.”  

The New York Harbor School, Rocking the Boat, and many other organizations are working to grow their hands-on river restoration education programs. In a city recently flooded, it’s a priority to involve the entire population in addressing sea level rise, increased storms, pollution and restoration in a way that is not only functional, but has meaning and inspires creative discovery.

Ready to Slurp by Claudia Weddell (Basenisa on Flickr)
Blue Beyond Borders is producing I Heart Blue- an ocean love affair to raise awareness and funds for the Marine Environmental Research Institute, “a leading organization in the ocean community dedicated to protecting ocean life and human health through research, outreach, and advocacy. Founded by Dr. Susan Shaw, a pioneering marine toxicologist, explorer, and ocean advocate, the Institute is at the forefront of understanding the rising pollution in the world’s oceans and engaging the public and policymakers in innovative solutions to end the flow of contaminants into the sea.”
Please check out this link to learn about the renowned presenters, panelists, performers, artists, and organizations creating this immersive multimedia, zero-carbon event. It happens tomorrow from 7-10 PM in New York!

 

 

Sea Level Rise – will we float sink or swim?

I just watched Chasing Ice today.  Intense…It changed my course for writing.  Instead of describing the electrolysis of mineral accretion, I am moved to talk glaciers.

Blue Underside Revealed
Camille Seaman Photography, copyright 2010

Glacier week seemed to start last Friday for me when Camille Seaman was featured on the TED Blog.  Both Camille and James Balog make it clear that the tipping point for icebergs is past.  The glowing, crystalline packs of frozen water will be saved in photographs and video for our archives, but most likely not for our planet. The giants are melting and flowing into the ocean at unprecedented rates.  So then I think, how CAN the polar bears be saved? Are massive ice blowers being built?  Dr. Steven Amstrup says that with carbon emission mitigation and other shifts in management, there is still hope for the bears and other ice animals.  Right, so stay in the moment, plan for the 6th mass extinction, keep hope alive,…

By Susan van Gelder/ Flickr creative commons

Back to the movie: The Extreme Ice Survey capturing time-lapse evidence of rapid change indicates that 150 million people may be displaced due to sea level rise. All of what I am sharing seems less than positive, yet I found the story and the footage to be motivating; James Balog is yet another “lone hero” shining light on masses of matter to illuminate what the masses of humans need to do: cut emissions and industrial, havoc-wreaking activities in exchange for renewable energies and naturalizing systems.  I am already part of the choir, how to inspire more closet cooperative visionaries to sing louder and truer? Will a red alert account like this begin to melt policy maker resistance to embrace 350 ppm (carbon) or less?

Curling up this late evening with a book and escaping is not possible after I witnessed the most beautiful horror of black holes in the ice caused by dust, coal, and other accumulations of anthropogenic stuff that absorbs heat and radiates through the sheaths of solid turning liquid. Tonight I am going to stay with this feeling of even smaller smallness in wonder at geological time.  I never feel large like a mountain or an old tree, yet I look at them and feel their stability.  They change in color, offer seasons, but I like that they stay put like architectural ancestors. Watching the ice calving off in colossal towers dwarfed every mundane facet and illusion of “reality.”  Some things instantly expand your mind in reverse proportion to your perception of your physical size.

The latest work by Argentine architect, artist, and MIT resident Tomás Saraceno

I said to a friend, to lighten things up, “We’ll just make room for the 150 million people on the continents.”  And, then again, there is this playground made almost entirely of air.  According to the article, “A future iteration of On Space Time Foam will make the project’s concern with the environment more apparent, when it travels to the Maldives as a ‘floating biosphere […] made habitable with solar panels and desalinated water,’ a reaction to the environmental destruction the islands face as a result of climate change.”  (side note: The Island President is another epic film that entertains, educates, slaps you to wake up.) Will people live in floating biospheres?

Will we finally grow buildings underwater?

Biorock concept design by Wolf Hilbertz and colleagues
How long until artificial gills are available at REI?  Can oil rigs that have caused so much damage transform into futuristic cities for biodiveristy above and below the surface?
Lower Reef by PreserveReefs.org, copyright 2010
Sea level rise is not a childhood frolic. I commend Romain Vakilitabar for tackling this topic, the humanitarian side, in his book, Matteo’s Day Off: A Story of Rising Seas.  He is seeking a publisher with large distribution and will offer all proceeds from sales to support an organization that addresses this complex issue.  At Making Waves 2012 we discussed his desire to find a good fit and the potential for his creativity to support LSS reef restoration. That would be fabulous.  If you know of a large distributor or another organization that has broad promoting power, please contact him.