Imagining Water, #2: Flooded McDonald’s

This post was originally published in the blog, Artists and Climate Change. It is the second in a year-long series that I am writing on artists who are making the topic of water a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances and publications that are popping up in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme. 

Flooded McDonald’s

Although created nine years ago by the Danish three-man art collective Superflex, the haunting film Flooded McDonald’s is every bit as relevant today, if not more so, as we recall with horror the recent television coverage of unprecedented water damage caused by mega-hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean. Just 21 minutes in length, Flooded McDonald’s was produced by Propeller Group (Ho Chi Minh City) in association with Matching Studio (Bangkok), and co-produced by the South London Gallery, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Denmark) and Oriel Mostyn Gallery (Wales).

Superflex

Superflex, founded in 1993 by Bjornstjerne Christiansen, Jakob Fenger, and Rasmus Nielsen, calls their art projects “tools” that they feel can be used in many ways and in many contexts beyond the art world. As they describe it, Superflex “challenges the role of the artist in contemporary society and explores the nature of globalization and systems of power… with art work that addresses serious social and cultural concerns.” In Flooded McDonald’s, Superflex has taken on the topic of rising tides, a now-uncontested result of global warming, using a life-size replica of a McDonald’s restaurant that gradually floods with water. The British art critic Charles Darwent summarized the film by stating: “Imagine if a rising tide caused by global warming claimed the very thing that contributed to it.”

The Set

The set of Flooded McDonald’s was created in meticulous detail over a two-week period in an empty swimming pool in Bangkok, Thailand. Eerily devoid of staff or customers, it includes a fiberglass, life-size Ronald McDonald, real Big Macs, counters, freezers, banquettes, hundreds of paper cups, cardboard hamburger containers, fries, sodas, napkins, trays, signage and all the accoutrements of the real thing. For 21 minutes, the restaurant is gradually flooded with 80,000 liters or 21,000 gallons of water.

mcflood_still_detail_1.jpgStill image from the film Flooded McDonald’s. Courtesy of Superflex.

What Happens 

At first, the water seeps in slowly under the door. The accompanying sound track is similar to the sound of the gentle lapping of the sea against the shore. Gradually, the level of the water rises, taking with it everything in its path. But even as the rising water fills the space, the scene is not what we expect of a forceful, full-fledge flood. As Superflex describes it, the film portrays a flood that is “destructive but in a mild, Scandinavian way.”

Although the artists admit that they scripted most of the shots for the film, in the end, the water “does what it wants,” creating unexpected and sometimes ironic images: the fiberglass sculpture of Ronald McDonald topples over and waves to the camera, bringing to mind the iconic image of Saddam Hussein’s statue, arm upraised, crashing to the ground in Baghdad and marking the end of an era; a plastic sign reading “wet floor” floats by, an understated reference to the way in which many government leaders have purposely underestimated the dangers of global warming.

mcflooded_production_1.jpgProduction image from the film Flooded McDonald’s. Courtesy of Superflex.

The random beauty amidst the destruction is evident throughout the film. With its ability to reflect what is above and below the surface, water is its own work of art. Camera shots taken underwater reveal a murky world where oil, French fries, paper debris, bits of food, and even furniture form pleasing shadows and abstract images.

dsc02991.jpgStill underwater image from the film Flooded McDonald’s. Courtesy of Superflex

So What Does It All Mean? 

In a video titled Why We Flooded McDonald’s, created by the Louisiana Channel, a non-profit website based at the Louisiana Museum of Art in Humlebaek, Denmark, the Superflex artists “walk” the viewer through the film and talk about their artistic intentions.

In their narration, the artists describe the film as an “end of the world scenario,” a “conversation” on global warming that uses the most famous fast-food chain in the world as a powerful symbol of corporate greed and consumerism. In what to me is a brilliant metaphor for climate change in general and rising tides in particular, they state that “when you add water, you can’t move backwards from what it does.” Like climate change itself, once unleashed, flood water destroys everything in its path.

In preparation for writing this post, I sent an email to Superflex asking them how they feel about the film nine years later. I received the following response: “Flooded McDonald’s hints at the consumer-driven power and influence and impotence of large multinational companies in the face of climate change, questioning with whom ultimate responsibility lies.”

Where to see Flooded McDonald’s

If you are lucky enough to live in the Los Angeles area, you can watch the film at UCLA’s Hammer Museum through October 15. Otherwise, check out the Louisiana Channel video Why We Flooded McDonald’s for film clips and commentary by the artists or watch a brief film clip here.

(Top image: Still image from the film Flooded McDonald’s. Courtesy of Superflex.)

Update on our ‘Plastic Seas’

Microplastic and its Impact 

In several posts since 2013, I have written about the overwhelming amount of plastic in our seas that contaminates the water and endangers ocean species. (see Plastic, Plastic Everywhere and A Global Ocean Tragedy, for example) In this update to the previous pieces, I would like to highlight a February 1, 2017 article in Scientific American entitled, “Sea Unworthy: A Personal Journey into the Pacific Garbage Patch,” by Erica Cirino. In her record of her 23-day experience with environmental scientists on a Danish research vessel traveling through what is known as the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch, she confirms the existence of microplastic at a much greater depth than was previously hypothesized, potentially increasing the current estimates of 165 million tons of plastic in the oceans to significantly more than that.

What is microplastic? Microplastic is the category of plastic representing the smallest and most toxic pieces in the seas, much of which is too tiny to be seen without magnification. The vast amounts of plastic produced on land reaches the oceans as a result of wind, dumping and run-off from rivers and streams. As they break into little pieces from the constant motion of the waves and are exposed to UV radiation, larger pieces of plastic become smaller and smaller.

Microplastic

Microplastic

Fish eat large quantities of microplastic, which they confuse with plankton, their normal source of food. As Danish scientist, Kristin Syberb, described, “It’s the smallest fish that eat the most plastic and become toxic. Then the middle-sized fish eat those smallest fish and become a little more toxic. Then the larger fish eat those middle-sized fish and become even more toxic. And then we eat the largest fish…”

Although there has yet to be a study measuring the levels and impact of plastic in human beings, scientists do know that plastic causes abnormalities in fish, resulting in reduced size and death. Noting the serverity of the problem, the article’s author further relates how “scientists now predict that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.”

All is not lost, however. Significant efforts are being made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and numerous non-profits, in the form of grants and programs, for education on the plastics problems, cleanup, prevention and research. The goal is to involve and engage large segments of the population around the world to reverse this horrendous, man-made problem.

 

OPEN HOUSE: Hartford and HOME

Expanding on OPEN HOUSE, a previous installation that we completed as part of an Art Kibbutz residency on Governor’s Island, NYC in July of 2015, Elena and I installed OPEN HOUSE – Hartford: An Interactive, Site-Specific Installation on the Meaning of Home and the Tragedy of Homelessness this week at the Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford, CT. The exhibition will run through January 20, 2017.

Using lengths of black and red parachute cord that ‘shoot’ from the ceiling, corners, walls and floor of the Charter Oak Cultural Center’s gallery to create angles and lines representing the outlines of an abstract building structure, OPEN HOUSE: Hartford, is also a powerful metaphor for the way in which every aspect of life itself becomes fragmented or deconstructed without the grounding of a home. The installation includes 6” x 2’ pieces of corrugated cardboard, or ‘box boards,’ that serve as randomly placed ‘siding,’ ‘roofing’ and ‘flooring’ of the abstract structure. These ‘box boards’ depict in words and images what each individual who participated in the project associates with the concepts of ‘home’ and the tragedy of ‘homelessness.’

Visitors who wander through the installation will experience the disjointed nature of the space and read a community’s memories, connections, yearnings, hopes and realities of home. The ‘box boards’ were created as part of the pilot project, HOME, that we recently completed in Stamford, CT, a wealthy commuter town only one hour outside NYC. Recognizing the power of art to engage the heart and the senses around big issues as well as start conversations and spark creativity in a way that words, statistics and facts cannot, we partnered with New Neighborhoods, Inc. (NNI) and Pacific House to engage the Stamford community in a highly visible, interactive public art project on the nature of home and homelessness and its reality in Stamford.

Below are images from OPEN HOUSE: HARTFORD, currently at the Charter Oak Cultural Center, and HOME, installed in November in the Stamford Government Center, Stamford, CT.

 OPEN HOUSE - HARTFORD, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, CT, Dec., 2016


OPEN HOUSE – HARTFORD, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, CT, Dec., 2016

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OPEN HOUSE – HARTFORD, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, CT, Dec., 2016

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OPEN HOUSE – HARTFORD, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, CT, Dec., 2016, Detail

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OPEN HOUSE – HARTFORD, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, CT, Dec., 2016, Detail

 OPEN HOUSE - HARTFORD, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, CT, Dec., 2016, Detail

OPEN HOUSE – HARTFORD, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, CT, Dec., 2016, Detail 

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OPEN HOUSE – HARTFORD, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, CT, Dec., 2016, Detail

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OPEN HOUSE – HARTFORD, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, CT, Dec., 2016

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Participant in HOME, Stamford, CT, 2016

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Participants in HOME, Stamford, CT, 2016

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Participant in HOME, Stamford, CT, 2016


HOME Installation, Stamford Government Center, Stamford, CT, November, 2016

 HOME Installation, Stamford Government Center, Nov. 2016, Detail


HOME Installation, Stamford Government Center, Nov. 2016, Detail

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Participants in HOME, Stamford, CT, 2016

 

What’s Happening to Our Sand?

Why Are There Sand Shortages Across the Globe?

As I was perusing the internet for articles on environmental issues recently, I came across a June, 2016 op-ed piece in The New York Times, entitled, The World’s Disappearing Sand by Vince Beiser, a journalist who is writing a book on the topic. For our work with The Wave and because of my own personal interests, I regularly follow many blogs, pod casts, articles, films, research projects, exhibitions and installations related to: global warming and it’s impact on water sources; water shortages and the reality of looming water wars; the proliferation of garbage in our oceans; and many other topics related to water that I have subsequently addressed here, as well as information on other environmental threats. This was the first time, however, that I had seen a reference to sand as a disappearing, vital resource. Given that I thought I had had a basic awareness of at least the major environmental topics of the day, I was both surprised at my total ignorance of this critical situation and highly disturbed by the nature of the problem itself.

Looking further, I found a trailer for Sand Wars, a comprehensive 2013 documentary by the award winning filmmaker, Denis Delestric; a TED Talk video, entitled, “Let’s Talk About Sand,” with Mr. Delestric; and hundreds of other fascinating print and digital references.

 Sand: The Major Ingredient of Concrete


Sand: The Primary Ingredient of Concrete

Here’s what I learned.

  • As it turns out, after water, sand is the second most consumed natural resource on Earth!
  • Why? Because sand is the primary ingredient for concrete, the material used in 80% of our built environment, i.e. for the construction of apartment buildings, hospitals, shopping centers, sidewalks, parking lots and just about any other physical component of city life.
  • Sand is also used in wine, dehydrated food, cosmetics, computer chips, plastics, windows, roads, etc.
  • The demand for sand, especially in the developing world, has increased astronomically as the global population has grown and as more and more people move into cities.
  • As Vince Beiser reported in “The World’s Disappearing Sand,” “China used more cement from 2011 to 2013 than the United States used in the entire 20th century.” Beiser also noted that “according to the United Nations Environment Program, in 2012 alone, the world used enough concrete to build a wall 89 feet high and 89 feet wide around the Equator.” The world demand is currently 40 billion tons of sand every year.
  • But sand, like water, is a finite resource. Although it’s found in abundance in deserts, desert sand is unusable for making concrete – the grains of sand found in deserts are round and smooth, rather than jagged, and don’t stick together when added to gravel and cement. That leaves only the sand available in rivers, beaches, and quarries,
  • In order to secure the sand that is needed, companies and local entrepreneurs are stripping riverbeds, beaches and floodplains. In places like India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Liberia, Nigeria and India, sand mining is destroying ecosystems, damaging coral reefs, lowering the water table and causing serious erosion along many shorelines. 75% – 90% of the world’s beaches are retreating as a result of erosion caused by dredging for sand along the ocean floor and coastlines. Sand mining has been documented in 73 countries and on 5 continents.
  • A whole industry of sand smugglers or sand thieves are extracting sand illegally in places where governments have regulated resources. People are actually being killed for sand in India by a ‘Sand Mafia.’
 Beach Sand Mining in Sierra Leone


Beach Sand Mining in Sierra Leone

 Sand Being Smuggled from the Krishna Riverbed, India, 2016


Sand Smugglers Along the Krishna Riverbed, India, 2016

  • In order to meet the on-going demand for sand around the world, efforts are being made to find alternatives to this vital resource. Using recycled glass that has been ground into fine particles is one such attempt at replenishing the sand in our rivers and beaches.
  • Additional efforts including conservation, stricter prohibition of sand mining and the development of other alternatives to sand must surely be part of the solution to this global crisis.

 

Sand, Sea, Stone, String x 3

Artists’ Residency For Two

In early June of 2016, Elena and I (plus husbands) headed to Aquinnah on Martha’s Vineyard for a glorious week of pure art play, as we have done together for many years. Because Aquinnah is located in a sparsely populated area at the very end of the island and is mostly deserted in early June, we have a pristine beach to ourselves as a palette for experimentation. It is our own private artists’ residency, a place and time of rejuvenation and inspiration that has served as the incubator for many of our collaborative and individual art projects.

 Philbin Beach, Aquinnah


The Pallette: Philbin Beach, Aquinnah

This year, we decided to limit the materials we brought for our experimental installations to black and red parachute cord.  We wanted to play with the contrast of black and red line on the ochre sand and natural rocks. We also wanted to document the motion of the water as it ‘redesigned’ our line patterns. (For those of you who follow this blog and the progress of The Wave as it travels from site to site, you will note that we use black parachute cord to connect all of The Wave pieces that are created by public participants into our Wave installations.)

“Home” 

One of the first installations we completed was conceived as a two-dimensional ‘home’ constructed in the shape of a linear square box with interior ‘spaces’ and ‘rooms.’ When we began, the ‘home’ was situated on the sand at least two – three feet from the shoreline.  Here it is, nearly complete, followed by details of its interior ‘spaces.’

 "Home," Parachute Cord and Rock on Sand, 2016.


“Home,” Image #1, Parachute Cord and Rock on Sand, 2016.

 'Home,' Parachute Cord and Rock on Sand, 2016


‘Home,’ Image, #2, Parachute Cord and Rock on Sand, 2016

 "Home," Parachute Cord and Stone on Sand, Detail, 2016


“Home,” Parachute Cord and Stone on Sand, Detail #1, 2016

 'Home," Parachute Cord and Stone on Sand, Detail, 2016


‘Home,” Parachute Cord and Stone on Sand, Detail #2, 2016

 'Home," Parachute Cord and Stone on Sand, Detail, 2016


‘Home,” Parachute Cord and Stone on Sand, Detail #3, 2016

Eventually, the tide moved in and altered the installation, shifting lines, moving rocks and adding lines and rocks of its own. (See green seaweed, wrapped around red and black cord) Our ‘home’ was no more, morphed into a ‘sea-scape.’

 'Home,' Parachute Cord and Rock on Sand, Detail, 2016


‘Home,’ Parachute Cord, Seaweed and Rock on Sand, Detail #4, 2016

 'Home' Parachute Cord, Stone and Water, 2016


‘Home’ Parachute Cord, Stone and Water, Detail #5, 2016

“Big, Black Rock”

While walking on the beach, as we did several times a day, we both noticed this big, black rock, decorated with a ‘dress’ of seaweed and poised magnificently between shore and sand. Using red cord to ‘wrap’ the black rock and mimic the seaweed ‘dress,’ we watched as the relentless sea moved in to pound against the rock and reposition what we had created.

 "Big, Black Rock," Parachute Cord and Rock on Rock, 2016


“Big, Black Rock,” Parachute Cord and Rock on Rock, 2016

 "Big, Black Rock," Parachute Cord and Rock on Rock, Detail #1, 2016


“Big, Black Rock,” Parachute Cord and Rock on Rock, Detail #1, 2016

 "Big, Black Rock," Parachute Cord and Rock on Rock, Detail #2, 2016


“Big, Black Rock,” Parachute Cord and Rock on Rock, Detail #2, 2016

 "Big, Black Rock," Parachute Cord and Rock on Rock, Detail #3, 2016


“Big, Black Rock,” Parachute Cord and Rock on Rock, Detail #3, 2016

“Big Rocks, Little Rocks”

Inspired by “Big, Black Rock,” we selected a series of big and small rocks to wrap and ‘connect’ with red cord. As with all of the previous installations, we were forced to move quickly before the waves took over. The first image below records the site before we began. The second image shows one of the rocks ‘wrapped’ intricately with the red cord. In the third image, the tide has already changed the careful ‘wrapping’ significantly and in the fourth, the water has moved over the small rocks to remove the ‘wrapping’ and tangle the cording.

 "Big Rocks, Little Rocks," Parachute Cord and Rocks, 2016.


“Big Rocks, Little Rocks,” Parachute Cord and Rocks, 2016. Before Installation.

 "Big Rocks, Little, Rocks," Parachute Cord and Rocks, Detail #1, 2016


“Big Rocks, Little, Rocks,” Parachute Cord and Rocks, Detail #1, 2016

 "Big Rocks, Little Rocks," Parachute Cord and Rocks, 2016.


“Big Rocks, Little Rocks,” Parachute Cord and Rocks, 2016.

 "Big Rocks, Little Rocks," Parachute Cord and Rocks, Detail #2, 2016


“Big Rocks, Little Rocks,” Parachute Cord and Rocks, Detail #2, 2016

Metaphors Galore

With nothing to bring home besides the red and black cord we had brought to the site as well as the several hundred photographs we had taken to record the work, we are still internalizing the process we undertook and the images that resulted from our efforts. There are metaphors that come to mind that will need to be translated into future projects: the impermanence of ‘home’ and daily experiences; the fragility of personal and communal connections; the beauty of line, natural or otherwise. Stay tuned.

Water Wars Hit Home

Four months ago, citizens of the 8 member towns that receive their public water from the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), a public, non-profit corporation that supplies water and sewer services in the Hartford, CT area, (where I live), learned that a secret deal had been made between the Niagara Bottling Company and the MDC itself, affecting the future of the public water supply.  The MDC has agreed to provide Niagara Bottling with up to 1.8 MILLION gallons of water a day at rates that are less than what public consumers currently pay and did so without public input. The water purchased from the MDC by Niagara will be bottled in a plant they are currently building in the town of Bloomfield and ultimately sold all over the country at a profit of billions of dollars/year.

When they learned about the MDC’s deal with the Niagara Bottling company, Hartford area residents in two citizen action groups, West Hartford Concerned Citizens and BloomfieldCitizens.org (and later, Save Our Water CT), mounted an enormous effort to protest the proposed water sale. At the heart of the ensuing debates were the fundamental questions, “Who ultimately owns the public’s water supply and who gets to decide how that water is allocated?”

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At a time when water has become a most precious commodity, these are questions that are currently being addressed all over the world. In his April, 2015 article in Time Magazine entitled, “The World Will Soon Be at War Over Water,” James Fergusson identifies 7 locations in Iraq, Turkey, China, The Congo, Afghanistan, India/Pakistan and Israel/Palestine already engaged in serious conflicts over water. On April 25, 2016, just one year later, Sarah Ferris and Peter Sullivan reported in The Hill in an article entitled, “Clean Water Crisis Threatens US,” that “The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence now ranks water scarcity as a major threat to national security alongside terrorism” and that “Hundreds of cities and towns are at risk of sudden and severe shortages, either because water is not safe to drink or because there simply isn’t enough.”

What enraged and motivated the citizens in the Greater Hartford, CT area to protest the sale of such a large volume of its water supply was what Bloomfiled resident Brad Klein, called “the commodification of a resource that has become a profitable industry,” without regard for the needs of the local population in times of drought, which, in an era of climate change, are becoming more and more inevitable. Partnering with other CT environmental groups, Save Our Water CT, worked with State Senator Beth Bye to introduce SB 422, a bill that would place the needs of local residents first in times of water emergencies and would prohibit the sale of local water to other industrial clients at a marked discount.

On Wednesday, April 27, Elena and I joined their effort by installing thousands of pieces of The Wave from 20 previous sites all over the Northeast in the shape of a reservoir on the grounds of the CT State Capitol. Legislators and visitors entering the building were confronted by a brilliant body of ‘Waves’ representing in a powerful and visceral way how we are all connected by our fundamental need for water.

 The 'Reservoir Wave' at the CT State Capitol


The ‘Reservoir Wave’ at the CT State Capitol, April 27, 2016

 The 'Reservoir Wave' at the CT State Capitol


The ‘Reservoir Wave’ at the CT State Capitol, April 27, 2016

 Citizens at the CT State Capitol 'Making a Wave" April 27, 2016


Citizens at the CT State Capitol ‘Making a Wave”
April 27, 2016

 State Senator Beth Bye Speaking to the Crowd at the State Captitol, April 27, 2016


State Senator Beth Bye Speaking to the Crowd at the State Captitol, April 27, 2016

Although it passed in the Senate, SB 422 did not ultimately receive enough support to be voted upon in the House before the end of the session. Paid lobbyists hired by Niagara and by the MDC overpowered the citizen effort. Save Our Water CT is not going away, though. They are determined to come back in 2017 with another bill and stronger ranks. Regardless of the outcome of SB 422, their voices emphasized how important a thoughtful state water plan, currently under development, will be to the security and well-being of CT.

For information on the latest news concerning water in the Greater Hartford, CT area, please visit BloomfieldCitizens.org.

“Open House” on Governor’s Island

Elena and I were invited by Art Kibbutz, an international Jewish artist community based in New York City, to create a site-specific installation from July 28, 2015 – August 4, 2015 at their Summer Residency on Governor’s Island, one of NYC’s hottest, new, arts venues located in the middle of New York Harbor.

After studying the potential spaces available to us in the former army officer’s home that was serving as the four-month studio and exhibition facility for Art Kibbutz, we ultimately chose to work under the main stairwell in a hallway on the first floor of this formerly elegant building that had lain fallow for years. Using parachute cord, painter’s plastic, charcoal and oil stick, we transformed the ‘dead’ space into an intimate place, an “open house” in which visitors are ‘invited’ to imagine the past life that existed here and place themselves in its present configuration.

The vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines that we hung from wall to ceiling to floor provide the outlines of a structure’s roof and walls and suggest the architectural elements of a fence, a portico, a gable. The pieces of plastic that are covering sections of the existing plaster walls in the hallway have become ‘paintings’ decorating the interior of the new structure. These ‘paintings’ are artifacts of the peeling paint and cracks that reflect the building’s decay and were created by rubbing charcoal gently over the plastic.

“Open House” is the first installation on the theme of home and homelessness that we are currently exploring in a new, collaborative, interactive public art project. A second installation in which participants create the ‘clapboards’ of a ‘home’ took place in Stamford, CT on August 5, 2015 in partnership with New Neighborhoods, Inc. and Shelter for the Homeless, non-profit organizations dedicated to providing affordable housing and shelter in the Stamford area.

Here are some images of “Open House” that highlight the bold new lines created by the black cord, the repetitive line patterns that echo the vertical and horizontal lines in the existing structure, and the shadowy remnants revealed in the house’s new ‘paintings.’

 Entrance to "Open House," Governor's Island, NYC, August, 2015.


Entrance to “Open House.” Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor’s Island, NYC, August, 2015.

 "Open House," View From Back to Front. Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor's Island, NYC, 2015.


“Open House,” View From Back to Front. Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor’s Island, NYC, 2015.

 "Open House," Detail Under the Stairwell, Governor's Island, NYC, 2015


“Open House,” Detail Under the Stairwell. Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor’s Island, NYC, 2015

 "Open House," Detail of 'roof,' 'portico,' 'gable.' Governor's Island, NYC, 2015


“Open House,” Detail of ‘Roof,’ ‘Portico,’ ‘Gable.’ Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor’s Island, NYC, 2015

 "Open House," Detail of Walls, Roof. Parachute Cord and Blue Lighting, Governor's Island, NYC, 2015


“Open House,” Detail of Walls, Roof. Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Plastic, Oil Stick, Charcoal and Blue Lighting, Governor’s Island, NYC, 2015.

 "Open House," Detail Showing a 'Rubbing' of the Cracks and Peeling Paint,' Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor's Island, NYC, 2015


“Open House,” Detail Showing a ‘Rubbing’ of the Cracks and Peeling Paint.’ Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor’s Island, NYC, 2015

 "Open House," Detail Showing a 'Rubbing' of the Cracks, Peeling Paint, and Electrical Box, Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor's Island, NYC, 2015


“Open House,” Detail Showing a ‘Rubbing’ of the Cracks, Peeling Paint, and Electrical Box. Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor’s Island, NYC, 2015

 "Open House," Detail of 'Spider Web,' Governor's Island, NYC, 2015


“Open House,” Detail of ‘Spider Web.’ Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor’s Island, NYC, 2015

 "Open House," Detail From Floor Looking Up Into the Second Floor. Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Painter's Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor's Island, NYC, 2015.


“Open House,” Detail From Floor Looking Up Into the Second Floor. Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Painter’s Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor’s Island, NYC, 2015.

 

 

 

Artwork on Climate Change Increasing Worldwide

Because I ‘follow’ Artists and Climate Change, the New York-based project devoted to tracking art work all over the world in all media devoted to climate change as well as other media outlets covering climate change, I have been noticing a steadily increasing number of artists that are focusing on this important topic. Just this week, Artists and Climate Change’s Facebook page posted references to four powerful projects/artists in the Netherlands, Australia, England and the USA that are calling attention to the effects of melting glaciers, rising seas, increasing temperatures and dramatic storms.

In the Netherlands, a country in which almost one third of the land is below sea level, the water authority in the town of Westervoort commissioned designer, Daan Roosegaarde to create an installation that highlighted the dangers of coastal flooding in order to reinforce the constant threat from rising waters to a population that they perceived as being complacent. Using LED lighting that projected waves over a floodplain to simulate a virtual flood, Roosegaarde’s installation was so effective that neighboring residents who witnessed the pilot version of the project called the police to report a break in the local dike. The swirling patterns within the light experienced by the 20,000 visitors who attended the installation over five nights emphasized the extreme beauty as well as the inherent danger of water.

 Waterlicht, Don Roosegaarde's Virtual Flood Installation in Westervoort, Netherlands


Waterlicht, Don Roosegaarde’s Virtual Flood Installation in Westervoort, Netherlands

In Australia, Climarte: arts for a safer climate, a non-profit organization established to develop arts events and an alliance of artists and groups that advocate for “immediate, effective and creative action on climate change,” is sponsoring an exhibition entitled, Nature/Revelation, from April 11- May 17, 2015 at the Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne. The exhibition includes Australian and international artists, addresses the extraordinary beauty of the natural world and is a component of the Art+Climate=Change 2015 festival that will encompass additional exhibitions in galleries and museums as well as lectures and forums on climate change.

 Ansel Adams, The Tetons and the Snake River, Wyoming, 1942


Ansel Adams, The Tetons and the Snake River, Wyoming, 1942 in Nature/Revelation

In England, The Guardian, a prominent British national daily newspaper, devoted a major series of stories to aspects of climate change and used a copy of British artist, Anthony Gormley’s climate change piece, “Connection,” to accompany an extract from This Changes Everything – Capitalism vs. Climate, a recent book on climate change by Naomi Klein. The image was wrapped around the print version of the paper and also distributed at a major climate change march in London on March 7. According to the Guadian, Gormley’s work of art “shows a disturbing silhouette of a giant body against a deep glow which could be manmade or natural. Both the body and the landscape appear to be equally toxic, raising questions of how humanity is impacting the planet through climate change.”

 Anthony Gormley, "Connection," Aniline Dye on Paper, 2000


Anthony Gormley, “Connection,” Aniline Dye on Paper, 2000

And, in the United States, The Orlando Museum of Art is hosting Maya Lin: A History of Water, a major exhibition by internationally renowned American architect, designer and artist. The exhibition, on view from January 29, – May 10, 2015, includes sculptures, drawings, installations and multimedia work addressing aspects of the disappearing natural world. In reference to her work on the earth’s ecology, she says, “I believe that art, at times, can look at a subject differently and in doing so, can get people to pay closer attention.

 Installation view of the exhibition: Maya Lin: A History of Water, Orlando Museum of Art, January 31–May 10, 2015. Foreground in marble: Disappearing Bodies of Water: Aral Sea, 2013. Background: Water Line, 2006, © Maya Lin Studio, courtesy Pace Gallery.


Installation view of the exhibition: Maya Lin: A History of Water, Orlando Museum of Art, January 31–May 10, 2015. Foreground in marble: Disappearing Bodies of Water: Aral Sea, 2013. Background: Water Line, 2006, © Maya Lin Studio, courtesy Pace Gallery.

Climarte‘s call to action on the topic of climate change effectively summarizes the artist’s inherent role in society at large as a catalyst for change:

“Throughout history the arts have played a major role in recording and reflecting the state of human society and its relationship with the natural world. Indeed, for some historical periods it is only through the arts that we have been able to learn about our past. But sometimes we have also needed the arts to be a catalyst for change, a call to action, a pricking of humanity’s collective conscience. We believe that now is one of those times.”

 

Poets and Pragmatists

Elena and I developed The Wave Interactive Public Art Project in 2011 to emphasize the importance of water in our lives and to illustrate through the creation of visually stunning installations how we are all connected by our mutual need for this vital resource.

In addition to cutting pieces of The Wave, participants at Wave events are often asked to complete prompts that elicit their personal memories connected to and associations with water.  On December 12, 2014, hundreds of individuals of all ages and abilities contributed to The Wave and filled out our water prompts at the Mandell Jewish Community Center (MJCC) in West Hartford, CT. Images of The Wave installation at the MJCC were included in our last blog post on December 18, 2014. Here are some poignant, poetic and practical thoughts on water.

 Water feels like dreams flowing through your fingers. The tears of the clouds, they fall from the sky.


Water feels like dreams flowing through your fingers. The tears of the clouds, they fall from the sky.

 Water feels like floating in outer space for eternity.


Water feels like floating in outer space for eternity.

 Water feels like a flag because its smooth.


Water feels like a flag because its smooth.

 Water feels soft.


Water feels soft.

 Water is soothing.


Water is soothing.

 Water is a liquid.


Water is a liquid.

 Water is very, very wet.


Water is very very wet.

 I like water because its wavy (sic)


I like water because its wavey (sic)

 I like water because it makes things grow. I can make hot chocolate with it. It keeps me hydrated.


I like water because it makes things grow. I can make hot chocolate with it. It keeps me hydrated.

 I like water because it keeps us alive and there are so many fun things to do with it.


I like water because it keeps us alive and there are so many fun things to do with it.

 

We Are Connected #3: More Faces of The Wave

On December 14, 2014, as part of a community commemoration celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Mandell Jewish Community Center in West Hartford, CT, hundreds of participants of all ages came together to participate in The Wave.

As we do periodically, we’re posting ‘Faces of The Wave’ from the December 14 event, a selection of images of people who have added their ‘waves,’ along with the thousands before them, to the growing, traveling, interactive installation representing our natural connections to one another by our common need for clean water.

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Plastic, Plastic Everywhere

268,940 Tons of Plastic in the World’s Oceans

News articles as well as blogs and social networks this week are full of references to the new study published on Wednesday, December 10, 2014 in the scientific journal PLOS ONE that estimates the amount of plastic currently existing in the world’s oceans. According to the study, which was conducted over 24 expeditions from 2007-2013, 268,940 tons of plastic that are broken up into more than 5 trillion pieces, are floating in the seas.

 Plastic Floating on the Surface of the Ocean


Plastic Floating on the Surface of the Ocean

In order to gather the data for the study, observers on ships counted larger pieces of plastic and researchers dragged nets to collect smaller samples. Computer models were used to estimate amounts of plastic in parts of the oceans not physically surveyed as part of the project. Pieces that are greater than 8 inches constituted about 75% of the plastic specimens and come from fishing nets and buoys, according to Marcus Eriksen, the head of the effort and the co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute. 5 Gyres is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “conduct research and communicate about the global impact of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans and employ strategies to eliminate the accumulation of plastic pollution in the 5 subtropical gyres.”

What’s the Impact?

Plastic in the oceans is floating waste that attracts toxic substances such as PCBs and contaminates the aquatic habitat. Plastic in the seas eventually gathers at one of the tropical, subtropical or sub-polar gyres, large systems of rotating ocean currents, where it is ultimately ‘shredded’ into tiny pieces. Scientists are concerned that these tiny pieces of plastic can be ingested by fish and other organisms and enter the food chain. The human impact of such a scenario is not yet known.

 Sea Turtle With Plastic Bag


Sea Turtle With Plastic Bag

 

Artists and Climate Change

The Latest News on Climate Change: Not Good

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading international body for assessing climate change under the auspices of The United Nations, has just released its Fifth Assessment Report, entitled, Climate Change 2014, the most comprehensive analysis on the topic ever produced. Hundreds of scientists from all over the world contributed to the report, which identifies the impact of climate change in great detail, includes data on melting glaciers, rising sea levels, more frequent and more severe storms, warming temperatures, etc., and proposes significant interventions/mitigations for policymakers. Here are just a few of the highlighted statements included in the report:

In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans. Impacts are due to observed climate change, irrespective of its cause, indicating the sensitivity of natural and human systems to changing climate.

Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.

 The Future?


The Future?

 Artists and Climate Change

So what’s a person to do? While politicians debate, scientists produce reports and journalists describe the issues and potential solutions, there are some writers, visual artists, musicians and dancers who are using the power of the arts to call attention to the very real threats resulting from climate change. In the September, 2014 post, I highlighted the compelling work of Spanish installation and street artist, Isaac Cordal, whose tiny, white collar bureaucrats convene endlessly on the subject while they are literally being submerged in water.

Chantal Bilodeau is a playwright and translator originally from Montreal who is currently living and working in New York. She is the Artistic Director of The Arctic Cycle, an organization created to support the writing, development and production of eight plays that explore the impact of climate change on the eight countries of the Arctic. Ms. Bilodeau’s blog, entitled, Artists and Climate Change: contributions from the artistic community on the vexing problem of climate change, identifies scores of artists working in dance, design, film, installation, literature, music, painting, performance, photography, poetry, public art, sculpture, sound, textile and theater, who are using their voices to increase awareness and effect meaningful change.

One particularly compelling example of the work documented on Artists and Climate Change is cellist, Daniel Crawford’s composition, A Song of Our Warming PlanetUsing surface temperature data between 1880 and 2012 and assigning low or high notes according to the yearly recorded temperature, he has created a musical representation of climate change. Listen to the remarkable piece here.

 Daniel Crawford in a photo clip from "A Song For Our Warming Planet."


Daniel Crawford in a photo clip from “A Song For Our Warming Planet.”

Artists don’t generally sit in meetings that generate political change but, as Chantal Bilodeau puts it so eloquently in her blog on Artists and Climate Change,”what artists have to say about climate change will shape our values and behavior for years to come. For that reason alone, we should pay attention.”

 

 

 

 

The Wave on You Tube

As I have reported in previous posts, Elena and I recently completed Wave installations in four public libraries throughout CT in partnership with The Connecticut Library Consortium and as part of an Arts Catalyze Placemaking Grant Project, from The CT Office of the Arts, Department of Economic and Community Development. The libraries included The Ferguson Library in Stamford, CT, The New Haven Free Public Library, The New London Public Library and The Willimantic Public Library.

In order to document how The Wave significantly impacts public discourse on water and the way in which it succeeds in bringing communities together on a topic of local, national and international importance, we hired videographer, Nild Sansone of LastingImage.com to film the project in action at The Willimantic (CT) Public Library. We were very impressed with the thoughtful responses to our questions about water issues and personal connections to water that we received from the hundreds of participants that flooded (pun intended) the library on an afternoon/evening in June of 2014. If was difficult to select from among the many powerful, sensitive and heart-felt quotes and images in order to keep the video at a manageable 4 minutes. So here it is. We’d love your feedback on the video and on any of your own water-related thoughts and comments.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjJhCAl-Mt8

 Teen Participants at The Wave in the Willimantic Public Library


Teen Participants at The Wave in the Willimantic Public Library

The Blog: One and a Half Years Later and
Artist Isaac Cordal’s “Cement Eclipses”

The Blog, One and a Half Years Later

When I started this blog entitled, “On Water and Public Art” in February of 2013, my intention was to provide a running conversation on: (1) the progress of The Wave, our interactive, public art project on water; (2) information on current global water issues; and (3) commentary about other public art projects that address timely contemporary subjects.

Over the past three years, as The Wave has traveled to four states, Elena and I have engaged over 6000 participants in the creation of 16 permanent and temporary installations in museums, galleries, schools, libraries and other public venues. In addition to following our travels with The Wave, the blog has addressed such varied topics as ‘public art as community building,” “public art as political awareness,” “science fiction and water,” “water wars,” “visual symbols of water,” and “the color of water in nature and art.” The Blog has also highlighted important public art projects including, Lily Yeh’s transformational interactive mosaics, James Bridle’s troubling Drone Shadows, Simon Beck’s monumental Snow Art, Andres Amador’s impermanent Sand Art and the 36 artists whose work on the enormous amount of debris in the ocean became the important, traveling exhibition, Gyre: The Plastic Ocean. Today’s post introduces another innovative public artist and his on-going urban street project entitled, Cement Eclipses.

 Bayeaux Tapestry: Norman Fleet Sailing For England 1070 - 1088 Showing Traditional Symbols of Water


Bayeaux Tapestry: Norman Fleet Sailing For England 1070 – 1088, Showing How Artists in the 11th Century Represented Water

Isaac Cordal’s ‘Take’ on Political Leadership and Climate Change

Isaac Cordal is a Spanish installation and street artist who is currently living and working in London. Cordal creates tiny cement figures (8-10 inches tall) cast from clay sculptures that he calls ‘Cement Eclipses.’ He places them in urban settings throughout Europe in order to shed light on current political and social issues. In his series, “Follow the Leaders,” Cordal has arranged the tiny heads and partial torsos of the balding, white collar businessmen in shallow ‘puddles’ of water as if they are almost completely submerged by rising flood waters. Cordal’s work suggests that while leaders around the world endlessly debate how to address the predictions that sea levels will rise up to three feet by the end of the century, permanent damage from climate change is already taking place around the world. Left to their own devices, this is how these ‘leaders’ will soon look if they don’t act decisively. His installations are examples of highly effective public art as political awareness.

 Isaac Cordal, "Follow The Leaders," London, 2011.


Isaac Cordal, “Follow The Leaders,” London, 2011.

 Isaac Cordal, "Follow The Leaders," Berlin, 2014


Isaac Cordal, “Follow The Leaders,” Berlin, 2014

Water Is…

Observations About Water From Wave Participants at The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

The primary goals of The Wave as a traveling, interactive, public art project are to call attention to the critical importance of water in all of our lives and to foster a sense of common connections through our shared responsibility to protect this vital resource. As they cut a piece of recyclable, polycarbonate film into a wave-like shape of their own interpretation and ‘connect’ it to a cord flowing through the installation site, participants are contributing to an ever-growing, dynamic wave in brilliant colors, emphasizing the beauty, power and essential nature of water.

 Wave Participants at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014. Photo Courtesy of Diana Guay Photography.


Wave Participants at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014. Photo Courtesy of Diana Guay Photography.

On July 12, 2014, The Wave was installed at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT as part of the Education Department’s monthly Second Saturdays for Families program. (See July 15 blog post for a description and images of the installation) In order to encourage personal connections to water and The Wave installation, the education staff of the Wadsworth invited Wave participants of all ages to respond in writing to four prompts about water: (1) I like water because…(3) My best water memory is…(3) Water is… and (4) Water feels…

The answers to the prompts emphasize how water evokes vivid memories of special people and places and appeals to all of the senses: sound, touch, taste, hearing and sight. Here are some samples provided by adults and children of all ages:

I like water because…

It is delicious!

It’s fun.

I can play with it.

It helps us survive.

It makes loud waves.

 The Sound and Touch of The Wave at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014


The Sound and Touch of The Wave at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014

My best water memory is…

The beach near my grandmother’s house in Bandra, Bombay, India. We used to play on the beach and rocks as kids and sadly, there is no more beach left.

My dad teaching me to swim in the Pacific Ocean: lesson #1 – just plunge in; lesson #2 – keep your mouth closed.  Thank you Daddy!

When I went to White Waters Over Georgia and I was in the wave pool in 8 feet. It was so cool!

Fish jumping in the water.

 Wave Participant, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014


Wave Participant, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014

Water is and feels…

Terrific!

Cold

Squishy

Send us your responses to these prompts and we’ll add them to our growing collection!

 Response by Wave Participant, Wadsworth Atheneum, July 12, 2014


Response by Wave Participant, Wadsworth Atheneum, July 12, 2014