Mushrooms June 6, 2013 No Comments
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
― Richard Buckminster Fuller
“Find a problem, not an idea. Then solve the problem.” Burt Swersey, professor, Rensselaer Polytecnic Institute
Since late February my world has been a rapid stream of residencies, workshops, shows, and installations. I have made recycled fish with 1st graders, wild animals with 5th graders and high school students, and a two-story “waterfall” with the help of student volunteers at the Cary Art Center in Cary, NC. I crossed the state delivering my own animal sculptures to Blue Spiral1 in Asheville, NC and Bull City Arts Collaborative in Durham, NC and I worked with Duke University students on an art installation about bio-plastics. I have seen art using plastic and about plastic by other artists dealing with issues similar to my own. If you are in Chapel Hill, NC this summer, be sure to check out Bright Ugochukwu Eke‘s work made out of plastic bottles at the FedEx Global building.
I have been traveling fast and furious in the river which is my life. Two weeks ago I rode over to Raleigh with a bunch of interested citizens to visit the single-stream recycling facility where all of the materials collected from our blue recycling bins are dumped, sorted and processed. Seeing masses of everyday packaging flowing by on conveyor belts as people and machines separated stuff by type was like watching a river of consumption as it swirled and eddied and finally ended up in a bale or a box or as refuse on the floor.
I write this post on a VERY gray and rainy day. Here in NC we are experiencing the results of tropical storm Andrea. The ground is soaked and rivers are filled to capacity, yet it rains on. Whatever we do, wherever we are, we are influenced by the natural world around us. We cannot help it. For some of us, perhaps it is only when the weather gets very wet, or very stormy, or very dry, or very–just VERY anything– that we begin to pay attention. I have been running from job to job this spring, on the road, in schools, art centers and galleries. In the back of my mind, always, I have been watching single-use plastic. Of course, I try not to use it, bring my own bags, say no to straws and that sort of thing. From the beginning of this blog, that has been my job, and it has not changed.
Plastics with polystyrene at the forefront came into common use during World War II and we have not looked back. Surely, no one at that time could have imagined the multitude of uses which would be developed for all sorts of plastics. And just as surely, no one could imagine what making cheap plastic items that we use only once but which last forever would cost us.
Why is this post entitled Mushrooms? If you read Ian Frazier’s article in the May 20, 2013 New Yorker magazine entitled “Form and Fungus: Can Mushrooms help us get rid of Styrofoam?”, then you will see why. In this article the author tells the story of two young men, Gavin MacIntrye and Eben Bayer, who have founded a company called Ecovative Design. They are developing ways to make polymers out of natural, biodegradable materials using mushroom spores. Their products are successful and compostable. Interest is world wide. A TED talk has been given. Maybe finally we can develop a new system to replace single-use-only-down-cyclable–at-best, plastic. Such is my hope. Working harder and faster just keeps us working harder and faster with no time to consider the results of our actions. We are not going to stop using plastic. Maybe we can learn to use natural polymers for a more sustainable world. Wow–What a thought! Read this article. You will be amazed.
“If I Had Wings….” May 8, 2013 No Comments
The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.
-Tenzin Gyatso (14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)
It is a sunny morning on the North Carolina coast. I hear the sound of the ocean and I hear birds. Birds chirping, birds peeping, birds trilling, birds squawking–Birds just generally communicating in all sorts of ways. The waves crash and the birds sing. Monday afternoon when I arrived, it seemed that all the pelicans on the east coast were flying overhead. I like to think it was in welcome, but know more surely that there must have been good fishing somewhere close by.
I came here to rest after a hectic spring full of residencies all over North Carolina, installations and a few shows. It has been a very busy year and I am fortunate.
This morning when I went down to take the first load of stuff to my car, I saw a red cardinal on a top of a telephone pole at the edge at the parking lot. Right now the mocking birds are fighting the grackles at the bird feeders below. Crows and black-headed gulls are flying reconnaissance and small long-legged seabirds are running in and out of the surf.
Why do we watch birds? For solace? Out of curiosity? For sheer delight?
I think one of the reasons that I watch them is because they offer a window into another world where politics has no meaning.
For the past few years I have been making the birds I see out of stuff that I find. Ironically, many of these birds are filled with ubiquitous single-use plastic bags. Next they are wrapped with scraps of cloth and string and finally bits of found plastic or twigs or bark or feathers or whatever might bring the bird to life. To me they are meditations on the natural world. Making them brings me some of the same peace I find in observation of wild things. Solace, back to solace. And joy.
Currently my birds are on display at Bull City Arts Collaborative in Durham NC. My show “If I Had Wings….” is open until May 26.
Here is the statement for that show:
If I Had Wings…..
Whoever we are, wherever we live—birds are wild and all around us. Pigeons and red-tail hawks inhabit New York City. Crows are everywhere. Can we live among wild things and not dream of their wildness, their ability to fly above us and live beside us in places we do not know? Like many who live in an urban neighborhood full of trees, I feed the backyard birds. Daily I watch red cardinals and black, white and grey chickadees as they gather on my birdfeeder with sparrows and wrens. On the ground are pigeons and juncos and an occasional rufous-sided towhee scratching for fallen seeds. Most mornings when I open my front door to empty the trash or go to my studio, I hear the crows calling from far above. As I write this I watch a female cardinal with a bright orange beak and subtle green and brown feathers forage for seeds on the Rose of Sharon bush outside my office window. I watch the birds and I wish I could fly……….
My birds can be seen at Bull City Arts Collaborative in Durham, NC until May 26.
More birds and animals can be seen at Blue Spiral 1 in Asheville NC.
Or to learn more about my wild animals check out Danielle Maestretti’s blog post about them for the American Crafts Council.
STREAMING: New Art Out of Old Bottles September 27, 2012 No Comments
STREAMING: NEW ART OUT OF OLD BOTTLES opened at the Gregg Museum of Art And Design at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC–September 27, 2012. This show will be up until Mid December 2012.
Below is the statement I wrote for the show:
Most plastic is used only once yet lasts forever. In the past 60 years we have used single-use plastic with abandon.
It is an integral part of our everyday lives. Try living with a day or a week or a year without it.
For the past decade my work have been looking at what we throw away here in the United States. Americans create more garbage per capita than any other country. This was true 20 years ago and it is true now. Why is this? The answers are complex and I believe that awareness is the first step in taking care of the world around us.
STREAMING: New Art Out of Old Bottles was made by me in collaboration with over 150 students from NC State’s Arts Village, University Scholars, and College of Natural Resources, museum staff and members of the greater community. All who came brought plastic bottles to the project. The students of Appalachian State University cleaned and de-labeled over 4,000 of the bottles you see here for a previous installation. This work is about community, process, reuse and looking forward.
1) A waterfall of plastic bottles flowing into a river of bottle caps and marine detritus.
2) A bamboo forest or green soda bottles and used chopsticks standing in a ground of caps, lids corks, and marine detritus.
3) A mountain range of over 3,000 PETE plastic bottles.
4) A thundercloud of lids and straws.
5) Two red wolves made out of plastic bags, scarps of fabric and string wrapped over metal armatures.
This exhibition contains over 50,00 bottle caps and close to 5,000 plastic bottles.
All materials in this exhibition have had a previous life.
This work was a community endeavor made possible by the hard work of many volunteers.
Heartfelt thanks to you all.
September 27, 2012
“Is it art if someone says it is? What makes us value an object as a work of art? Is it physical appearance alone? Its aesthetic effect? Is it rarity? If diamonds were as plentiful as sand what would we make of them” John Foster
Don’t miss the two other shows at the Gregg Museum, as they are amazing in very powerful and different ways.
Art Without Artists co-curated by John Foster and Roger Manley
Diamonds or sand, bottle caps and spirits. Altars, power objects and a lost and found bulletin board of great beauty. Each time I look I find more to see.
The Gregg Museum of Art and Design–September 27-December 16, 2012
STUFF: Where does it come from and where does it go? April 11, 2012 3 Comments
In the United States we buy stuff all of the time, and are very often not responsible for where it goes when we are finished with it. I look in trash cans all of the time. In a way, as an environmental artist, I consider it my job. This is what I know, just by looking–I see lots of aluminum cans and plastic bottles, tossed rather than recycled–all of the time.
I spoke with a woman from Texas today. She is a curator in a museum in Odessa Texas where she says prairie dogs are her neighbors. She told me that they have a big problem with plastic bags polluting the environment. Apparently they get stuck all over the tumbleweeds. This must be very unsightly, not to mention bad for these airborne plants.
Yesterday, while pumping gas, I chased but did not catch a yellow Walmart bag as the wind yanked it into the air and then threw it into the middle of a busy intersection. With
lots of cars rushing past I gave up my mission and stood and watched it as it twisted and turned down the road, on a journey to the ocean, perhaps getting stuck for a while in a tree or maybe even a tumbleweed along the way.
For the past two weeks I have had the good fortune to have been an artist-in-residence at Appalachain State University, at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, installing my show STUFF: Where does it come from and where does it go? I worked with Ben Wesemen and his intrepid cadre of students from the Catherine J. Smith Gallery and the staff at the Turchin Center as well. By the time my residency was over we had worked with over 200 staff and students installing 10,000 PETE plastic bottles in the windows and making a comet full of bottle caps and beach plastic and a bamboo forest of chopsticks and Mountain Dew bottles. It was an amazing and humbling experience. Recycling coordinator, Jen Maxwell, “guesstimates” that around 10,000 plastic bottles are recycled each week at the University. Helping to clean and then stack 10,000 bottles made me realize in a visceral way, how much plastic that is.
Here is my statement for the show:
I saw it on 60 minutes tonight so I know it must be true. Our oceans are filling with bits and pieces of plastic. The plastic comes from us, via our rivers, our streams, the wind and roadways. It is going there all the time and the fish and birds are eating it. Plastic is polluting the waters of our oceans in big ways. The next time you see a plastic bag caught in a tree or a gutter full of plastic bottles, straws and lids, you might ask yourself, now where is this stuff going?
Captain Moore of Algalita Research Foundation, who has been traveling and documenting all of the plastic flowing into our oceans says source reduction is the only answer.
I have been documenting the “stuff” of our lives for over 20 years. The things we use once and throw-away. What I say is this–what all of us do every day really matters. Recycling counts. So does remembering to bring your own bag to the store and saying no to single-use plastic when you do not need it.
My job as an artist is to transform the materials I find around me. “STUFF: Where does it come from and where does it go?” here at the Turchin Center has been my biggest opportunity yet. Thank you all for helping in collecting, installing and most importantly, looking, seeing and asking your own questions. The world belongs to all of us.
All the time.
Going up the mountain March 27, 2012 2 Comments
“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” Dr. Seuss
Tomorrow, I travel up to Boone, NC to Appalachian State University to begin my residency at The Turchin Center for the Arts. With the help of staff and students I will make an installation entitled STUFF: Where Does It Come From and Where Does it Go? The Turchin Center was a church before it became an art center and it is a lovely building. The exhibition space has high ceilings and large windows. The staff have been collecting, or it sounds like corralling, lots of plastic water bottles to fill the windows. I am bringing my collection of ubiquitous plastic lids and straws which I see everywhere, and this year have been picking up. I am fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work in such a beautiful space and I know it will be a privilege to work with the students as well. What will the results of our endeavors be? Stay tuned as we all find out.
Last week, I helped the 3rd and 4th grade students of Chocwinity Primary School in eastern NC make a coral reef out of plastic bottles. We used lots and lots of PETE bottles, mostly water, but some soda, and made a very beautiful installation. The students made schools of plastic fish and lots of plastic seaweed. We had lots of fun transforming a breezeway in the school to an underwater grotto.
Where do all these bottles come from? Do any of you remember the advent of curbside recycling? I do and in my hometown of Durham, NC it was over 20 years ago. I also remember that in the beginning, plastic was controversial. Our recycling trucks did not pick it up because there were no markets for it. And the recycling of it was not full circle, mostly meaning that it would be down-cycled into another object but not recycled into itself over and over. Many more things were in glass containers. By now, plastic containers are such a part of our culture that most people assume that we could never live without them. Here is the thing–plastic is recyclable, it is just not biodegradable. It comes out of the earth and does not go back into it like leaves from a tree or rain to the ocean. I am thinking that what may change our point of view on our over use of plastic might be the rising cost of the petroleum that it is made of. Plastic and gasoline are mostly from the same source. Petroleum is an extremely valuable and non-renewable resource. Plastic, made to use once, to fit our single-use life style, is just not the value it seems.
Okay okay, I bet you have heard me say all of that before. Yes, and it is still true. Here is some interesting news sent to me by my friend Sarah B., one of the best collectors of stuff in my life. A bunch of colleges in the northeast have begun to ban plastic bottles from their campuses. Hummm….Now isn’t that interesting?
Meanwhile, grab your reusable water bottle and come on by the Turchin Center to see our show. We welcome you.
KAIROS and the way of the warrior February 11, 2012 2 Comments
“Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts. Each time we drop our complaints and allow everyday good fortune to inspire us, we enter the warrior’s world.”
― Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times
Recently, I have been feeling that my life is out of my control, or more specifically, whatever I do, no matter how closely I do or do not pay attention to the details of my life, I am just not in control. Not Ever. Stuff happens all of the time. A friend’s brother gets a cancer diagnosis, I lose my wallet, I forget the most important thing I needed at the grocery store. Some stuff, I might have prevented by being more mindful–losing and forgetting are certainly reminders to slow down. Other things, like the serious illnesses of those we love, bring us deeply into the vulnerable places in our souls. And in the middle of all this, we work and love and get our bills paid as best we can.
The first, pictured above and sent by Mary Hark, is heartbreakingly beautiful. The second, of sushi made from ocean plastics sent by Rachael Derello, would be funny, if it just wasn’t true. But true it is. True true true.
Because of the similar messages of what our overuse of plastics is doing to us, these images tell me that many people see the plight of our oceans — and the effects it is having on us — and are talking about it, working to educate us in the very best way they can.
Before Christmas while in a book store looking at the “staff picks” I found a wonderful book entitled CROW PLANET: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. I have been watching and making crows for over 4 years now, and this book jumped into my hands. Crows and the way they are adapting to our rapidly changing world are harbingers of the environmental changes around us. Many of us have crow stories. In fact, keep your ears open the next time you are outdoors, wherever you are, if you listen closely, chances are you might hear their call.
Here is what Lynn says in her introductory chapter, Crows and Kairos.
“There are two Greek words for time. One is chronos, which refers to the usual, quantifiable sequential version of time by which we monitor and measure our days. The other word is kairos, which denotes an unusual period in human history when eternal time breaks in upon chronological time. Kairosis “the appointed time,” an opportune moment, even a time of crisis, that creates an opportunity for, and in fact demands, a human response. It is a time brimming with meaning, a time more potent than “normal” time. We live in such a time now, when our collective actions over the next several years will decide whether earthly life will continue its descent into ecological ruin and death or flourish in beauty and diversity.”
I do not want the part of me that feels “out of control” whether it is off my daily life or the environmental distress I see around me, I do not want this part of me to be the part that takes over my world. Where I live the daffodils are blooming–maybe early, but abloom they are and they are gorgeous. Their yellow heads are bobbing on the edges of parking lots where I see plastic trash in the form of to-go lids and straws and candy wrappers abandoned and ignored.
To be a “warrior” as Pema Chodrun describes above, to love the beauty I see around me is a gift of living fully. To balance this joy of the ordinary beauty of every day life, with the environmental waste and denial I also see is a job I set my mind to daily. I pick up what I can and make art out of it. I continue to use as little “single-use” plastic as I possibly can.
Ultimately, This is what I know. It is not about what “I” do, but what “we” do as a culture and as the people of this earth. And I know this as well. Somedays I am a “warrior” and somedays I am overwhelmed by the monumental task of paying attention and knowing that so much more needs to be done.
Wild geese January 2, 2012 1 Comment
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours,
and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles
of the rain are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
By Mary Oliver from Dream Work
The geese are traveling, up above us this time of year. I saw a perfect “V” of them Friday night when I was out in the yard with Adele Rose, the “soon-to-be-2 year-old ” in my life. The sun had set, the sky had that just before dark near purple hue to it. The birds flew in close to us, almost right above the house where you could see their great flapping wings and very long necks, and Adele Rose who loves owls, was mightily impressed.
Tonight, the weekend over and the work week soon upon me, on a whim, I picked up a book of Mary Oliver’s poems, reading a few of them until finally I settled on ”Wild Geese”, an old friend of mine. It’s funny how you might think that you “know” a poem–that it is inside of you already and then reading it again after a long absence, it is a new thing, almost altogether.
I think what happens is life itself moving over our bodies and our souls day in and out like a river, swirling about us. In its current we swim, we breathe, we live, we laugh, we grieve, we worry, we grow and change. Life, it does not stop for us, not one bit.
“Geese” I said and “geese” she answered back.
Happy New Year everyone!
BeStrawFree July 8, 2011 4 Comments
Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.
This morning I counted 21 tomatoes on my 4 tomato plants. The peaches on my tree which sprouted from my compost pile will be ripe soon and it has been raining every night here in Durham, NC for the past 3 or 4 days. These are all good things, yes indeed. Summer is here and the cotton is high, or at least promises to get there if the rain keeps up.
Here are two new initiatives which have excited me:
1) A 9 year old boy named Milo Cress from Vermont has started a “Be Straw Free” campaign in his state. His website tells us that each day we use 500 million straws–enough disposable straws to fill over 46,400 large school buses per year. He is asking restaurants in his home town of Burlington Vermont to sign a pledge to give people a choice, straw wise. People are listening, the governor of Vermont, for one. You can go to his website and find out more about what he is doing and sign your own pledge if you so choose. This young man has research behind him and a plan in front of him.
2) A grocery store with no packaging is planning to open in Austin Texas. The name of the store is In.gredients and this is what it says of itself: ”in.gredients is a collaborative effort between business, community, and consumers with the goal of eliminating food-related waste while supporting local businesses and farmers.” Go in.gredients!, is what I say–I wish you great success in your new enterprise.
Meanwhile, I continue to feel fortunate to be able to go to my local Durham Farmer’s Market twice a week if I want to where I can get fresh local produce and bring my own packaging very easily. Some new neighbors have offered me access to their front yard, which is full of ripe tomatoes and cucumbers as I write this, and the blueberries are ripe for the picking all around.
All of this is good news. The hard stuff for me is still how much non-recyclable single-use plastic I find around me all of the time. After a year and more working on being single-use plastics free, sometimes I feel overwhelmed with all I see. More on this later, I am thinking…
Right now I want to say thanks to all around me who are sending me information and changing their lives because they want too. Some of the things my friends have told me they have done since I have begun my quest to use much less plastic in my life are these: they have bought refillable coffee mugs, begun to compost, begun bringing their own bags to the grocery store and stopped using single-use plastic water bottles. I feel grateful for the gracious attention these friends are paying, and also grateful to the many people I meet from day to day doing the same.
Plastics are in our lives to stay. We love our computers and our shoes and our drainpipes and our swimsuits. Our tennis rackets and our cell phones and our plastic tubing. Fountain pens, lawn chairs and flyswatters. Many many people are working on making all of this more sustainable all of the time. More and more plastics are becoming recyclable, yet many still are not. All of this paying attention can be hard work. It can also feel good. I mean, my compost pile is an amazing and very active place.
Lately I have been struggling with my own righteous indignation over the glut of plastics in our lives. Why aren’t more people bringing their own bags, or not using straws or whatever? Why isn’t recycling easier? Why is the plastics industry keeping those arrows around those numbers on disposable plastics which are NOT recyclable? Why? Why? Why? I do not have answers yet as to how to deal with all I have been feeling. I know I feel a responsibility to keep learning about our earth and how all this plastic is affecting us, and also, equally important, what initiatives people are taking–which is why I am so excited about the two examples above.
bag lady May 18, 2011 3 Comments
Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. Lao Tzu
The Red Wheelbarrow April 26, 2011 5 Comments
“When you blame others, you give up your power to change.”— Douglas Adams
“You know, I think if people stay somewhere long enough – even white people – the spirits will begin to speak to them. It’s the power of the spirits coming from the land. The spirits and the old powers aren’t lost, they just need people to be around long enough and the spirits will begin to influence them.” — Crow elder
This is the “before the bugs” time of spring here in Durham, NC. The leaves are full and green on all of the trees, and lawns have mostly been mowed for the first time. The rains have kept the pollen count down. My neighbors and I were lucky with the recent storms, just one tree down, falling into the street. Now with one less large oak tree in the neighborhood and much more sun reaching the ground, I am thinking of planting tomatoes for the first time in years.
Meanwhile, I have been working in schools throughout my region and even spent last week at the coast, watching the moon rise most nights, an orange ball, coming up on the eastern rim of the Atlantic Ocean. It has been good, this morning, to spend some time working in my yard with my new red wheelbarrow.
My work monitoring single-use plastic continues. Several weeks ago I had the great pleasure of working with the Marine Ecology Class at Fuquay-Varina High School making the ocean food web out of discarded single-use plastic. First, we cleaned the creek next to the school of all of the plastic detritus that had blown over the fence next to the parking lot. The students also brought in all of the throw-away plastic they had used in their homes for a week. Students selected animals from the ocean food web, covering the list from whales at the top to plankton at the bottom and made them out of this collected plastic. We hung this food web made entirely of cast off plastic up for science night. The students entitled it “Killer Plastic.” Among many wonderful creatures you can see the ethereal jelly fish made out of plastic bags floating top left.
Last week I got to stay in a small motel right across the road from the Atlantic Ocean while I did a residency with the students of Grandy Primary School in Camden, North Carolina. The weather was warm and every day after work I took my green folding chair down to the beach. Each afternoon I walked over the small dune which separated the ocean from the road and read my book, watched the birds and surfers, dug my feet in the sand, and in general felt very lucky. This was a short walk, and each day it was the same walk, yet the plastic I found along the beach and on the path through the dunes was plentiful and continually arriving. Here is the thing about this plastic. It was not hard to find. I only picked it up as I walked back and forth. The beach is big. It looks empty of this stuff. But it is not. I constantly found plastic bottles and plastic bags, both the kind from grocery stores and the clear looking things around snacks, straws, whatever. And then there are the caps and old faded balloons and bits and pieces of things. More of the stuff that our marine wild life might swallow. A lot of it gets thrown in the trash can beside the pathway over the dunes. Anything that doesn’t make it there gets swallowed by the ocean pretty quickly.
What happens to the stuff that gets swallowed by the ocean? Again–the ocean is very big, but still, this picture of a turtle to the right is always in my mind and one of the reasons why I pick up any loose plastic when I see it floating around or half buried in the sand. I am not the only one who does this; if you are reading this, you probably do it too.
Meanwhile, I live my life. Some days are easier than others. Always, my favorite times are simple ones. Today it has been how green my yard is, how damp and ready to grow things the soil has become. On a whim, I bought the red wheelbarrow pictured above a few weeks ago at a small hardware store out in the country. Did I buy it to care for my garden or for the nurturance of my soul? I would say it is a toss up. With this simple machine, a wheel attached to an inclined plane, I move compost to my garden, leaves to the compost, dirt here and there. Working in my yard nurtures me. Turning my compost, or digging in the actual garden where I turn the soil and find earthworms galore, I am happy. In my yard, I shift dirt about, weed and plant, plant and weed, listen to the birds sing, and wait for the hydrangeas to bloom. The world is big and we are all busy in it. Worms and a wheelbarrow bring me home. There are no chickens in my yard, but I do see an occasional white-tailed rabbit happy in the grass.
by William Carlos Williams
so much depends
upon a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white