Care as Culture: Artists, Activists and Scientists Build Coalitions to Resist Climate Change

On February 12, I participated as a panelist/respondent on “Care as Culture: Artists, Activists and Scientists Build Coalitions to Resist Climate Change, A Convening Around the Peace Table.” This event was held at the Queens Museum in conjunction with the exhibition Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Maintenance Art and took place at the large circular “Peace Table,” a centerpiece of her large retrospective exhibition. Our afternoon of discussion brought together a group of artists, activists, and scientists. One goal of the roundtable was to brainstorm methods for coalition building across these disciplines, to effectively multiply the power to confront an environmental, political, and spiritual crisis in our increasingly antagonistic time. Questions posed were;  “How can we create a broad cultural movement to combat the policies of a new administration intent on dismantling many of the safeguards that reduce the effects of climate change?” “How can successful coalitions be introduced, and the urgent ways artists can begin the process of coalition building” and “what prevents us from working together and how can we advocate for change?”

The presenters included Newton Harrison, The Natural History Museum, Natalie Jeremijenko, (absent) and Mary Mattingly. Respondents included Carol Becker, Francesco Fiondella, Allan Frei, Hope Ginsburg, Alicia Grullon, Klaus H. Jacob, Amy Lipton, Lisa Marshall, Jennifer McGregor, Aviva Rahmani, Jason Smerdon, and Marina Zurkow. Newton Harrison presented on the concepts, outcomes, and collaborations that were part of “A Vision for the Green Heart of Holland” 1995. The Harrison Studio consists of Helen Mayer Harrison (b.1929) and Newton Harrison (b.1932) who are among the earliest and the best known ecological artists. Working with biologists, ecologists, architects, urban planners, and other artists, the Harrison Studio initiates collaborative dialogues to uncover ideas and solutions that support biodiversity and community development.

Speaking on behalf of the collective The Natural History Museum was co-founder Beka Economopoulos. In her presentation “Tactics for the Trumpocene” she addressed the museum’s latest work to build coalitions between scientists, Indigenous communities and museum professionals. The Natural History Museum’s mission is to affirm the truth of science. The museum is a project of Not An Alternative, a collective of artists, scientists, historians, theorists, and activists. Launched in 2014, The Natural History Museum is a mobile and pop-up museum that offers exhibitions, expeditions, educational workshops, and public programming. Unlike traditional natural history museums, it makes a point to include and highlight the socio-political forces that shape nature.

Artist Mary Mattingly presented “Swale,” an experiential public space and artwork on New York’s waterways that provides access to free food through perennial urban agriculture along with coalition members Lindsay Campbell, Dariella Rodriguez, Bram Gunther (Co-Director of the NYC Urban Field Station), and docents from the Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice: Brandon Kane and Anthony Lespier. Mattingly is an artist who takes societal consumption and ecological crisis as points of inquiry. Working with community members ranging from scientists to engineers, students, and neighbors, she co-creates sculptural ecosystems in urban spaces. Mattingly is engaged in questions about how art can influence policy and strengthen the commons.

Panelist/Respondents included Carol Becker, Professor of the Arts and Dean of Faculty at Columbia University School of the Arts; Francesco Fiondella from the International Research institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University’s Earth Institute; Allan Frei, climatologist and Deputy Director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities; Hope Ginsburg, artist; Alicia Grullon, artist and founder of Percent for Green, Bronx, NY; Klaus H. Jacob, geophysicist and Professor of Environmental Science at Barnard College; Amy Lipton, Director/Curator at ecoartspace; Lisa Marshall, community organizer for Mothers Out Front, NY; Jennifer McGregor, Director of Arts and Senior Curator at Wave Hill, Bronx, NY; Aviva Rahmani, artist and visiting professor at Stony Brook University, NY; Jason Smerdon, Associate Research Professor at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and Marina Zurkow, media artist and faculty member at ITP/Tisch School of the Arts.

The convening took place over the course of 3 plus hours and gave time after the presenters for respondents to speak, address the posed questions and add to those questions. It was a day where dire concerns for the future were expressed, while simultaneously the uplifting wit, energy, knowledge and spirit of the participants proved to be an affirmation of like-mindedness and shared ideas towards coalition building, which had been expressed as a goal of the gathering. Having participated on many such panels, my hope is for continued dialogue. The group resolved to stay in communication beyond the event.

Amy Lipton


Curator-in-Residence, St. Mary's College of Maryland

This is not my first residency, however, curators are not often invited to occupy space that is traditionally made available to artists. Last year, visual artist Sue Johnson, Professor of Art and Director of the Environmental Studies program and Artist House Residency at St. Mary's College of Maryland, sent me an email and invited me to come out for a week, a month, or as long as I needed/wanted. I had included Johnson in an exhibition over a decade ago titled Bug Eyed: Art, Culture, Insects (2004), and was flattered that she invited me. This seemed like a great opportunity to spend time on a campus, interacting with college students, to give a lecture and a workshop, and possibly teach a summer session. We hammered out some dates, titles, and descriptions for my programs, and here I sit now at the Artist House on Mattapany Road in St. Mary's City, home of Maryland's first colonial settlement and the first capital of Maryland. 

I arrived on February 6th and started prepping for an Art & Ecology lecture and an Art & Food workshop, creating Keynote presentations and curating video clips to share. I could tell right away that the students here--being embedded in a farming culture in rural Maryland, and with environmental science and biology programs on campus--were naturally interested in the interstices of humans and nature. For my lecture on Feb. 22nd, I presented Windsock Currents, an installation I produced on Crissy Field in the Presidio in 2005, and Cloud House, my more recent curatorial public art endeavor in Springfield, Missouri. I presented the evolution of ecoartspace and our activities such as the video archive (presented interview with Buster Simpson) and Action Guides (presented Eve Mosher's HighWaterLine). I also shared a short video on painter John Sabraw, providing an example of the remediative art that will be the focus of my Summer session I've proposed titled Debris Fields: Aesthetic Solutions to Industrial By-products. Attendance was over 100 including students and community members who stayed seated until the end; a resounding success as I am told!

On Saturday Feburary 25th, I presented a six-hour workshop on art and farming, starting off with performative artworks from the 1970s including: FOOD restaurant in Soho by Gordon Matta-Clark and Carol Goodden; Making Earth by Newton Harrison; and The Farm an alternative school by Bonnie Sherk. I also presented Exchange Values by Shelley Sacks, an artist from the UK whose work inspired me to focus on art and food production after meeting her in 2005. And, I presented works by a few of the artists in my 2006 exhibition Hybrid Fields presented at the Sonoma County Museum, including: Susan Steinman's Sweet Survival; Laura Parker's Taste of Place; Temescal Amity Works Sonoma Preserves; Wowhaus' Tree, Trust, True; and Matthew Moore's Green Roof. More recent works that were shown included: The Waffle Shop in Pittsburgh; Lauren Bon's Not-A-Cornfield; Amy Franceschini's This is Not a Trojan Horse; and Matthew Mazzotta's Harm-to-Table. We discussed how food miles are calculated and the challenges that this model presents. And, before breaking into two groups to brainstorm potential projects for St. Mary's City, I took them down a "darker" path to examine the work of Hugh Pocock, MyFoodMyPoop, and Jae Rhim Lee's Mushroom Burial Suit. We also watch segments of the documentary The Real Dirt on Farmer John an artist/farmer who comes close to losing the family farm, and excerpts from the play Map of My Kingdom about the transfer of farm land. 

I've been here three weeks now, with five more to go. I'll be giving a talk to an environmental economics class February 27th (tomorrow), and another talk to a sculpture class on March 22nd. I've also been invited up to Baltimore to speak to an Urban Farming class taught by Hugh Pocock at the Maryland Institute of Contemporary Art on March 20th, as part of his Sustainability and Social Practice program. Looking forward to experiencing the change of season, from winter to spring, here in the land of oysters on the Potomac River in the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the USA

Patricia Watts


Art-in-Nature: Enchantment Wrap Up

The Moving Clouds (performance) by Minoosh Zomorodina

Within You and Without You (terrace site-work) by Faith Purvey

Park Pool Province (poolside fence work) by Karen Reitzel

Cloud Chamber (aviary site-work) by Ben Allanoff

Enchantment: a feeling of great pleasure, delight; the state of being under a spell or magic; a feeling of being attracted by something interesting, pretty, something that holds your attention. 

This month marks the closing of Enchantment at Peter Strauss Ranch in Agoura Hills, California. Three temporary site works were installed in May and the final performance was on Saturday September 10th. Each artist was provided an honorarium by ecoartspace to cover materials and incidentals. It was the fourth successful collaboration between ecoartspace and the National Park Service (NPS); the others, Windsock Currents at Crissy Field in the Presidio (2005), and at the Grand Canyon South Rim Artist-in-Residence Program (2009 and 2012). 

Peter Strauss Ranch is home of an enchanting oak woodland that was inhabited for thousands of years by the Chumash people, and later as part of the Rancho Las Virgenes after Spanish Colonization. The modern Pool and rustic Terrace were built in the 1940s when Warren Shobert and Arthur Edeson purchased the ranch and transformed it into Lake Enchanto, an amusement park and retreat. Lake Enchanto closed in 1960. Peter Strauss purchased and restored the ranch in 1976 and lived on site until 1983. The ranch was then sold to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and the National Park Service purchased the ranch in 1987 as part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. It is located in the Triunfo Creek drainage.

About the works:

Cloud Chamber: Memories, Dreams and Reflections by Ben Allanoff transformed an existing aviary structure originally built by a former owner Harry Miller, a pioneering automotive engineer who used the ranch as a weekend retreat in the 1920. For this site, Allanoff cut biomorphic shapes from sheet metal and hung them from the top of the wire cage, a symbolism of the birds that once resided there. The reflective shapes were strikingly architectural, while "evocative of the spirits or energies that animate our world and our individual psyches that cannot be grasped," stated the artist.

Park Pool Province by Karen Reitzel included two fabric panels tied to the fencing around an abandoned circular cement pool constructed with hand-dyed strips of silk scarf material. One depicted two prancing poodles and poison oak leaves on aqua blue silk that later faded to white, and the other depicted a helicopter with swimming poodle-shaped clouds on fleshy pink colored silk, which could be seen from the adjacent terrace. The artist was inspired by the sites history of leisure, pleasure, and artifice, and the contemporary condition of partly re-natured, drought-stricken lands in close proximity to encroaching development.

Within You and Without You by Faith Purvey located on a terraced hill overlooking the circular pool was an ascending triangular pathway made with burlap and orange fabric trim. Participants climbing the hill entered a perceptual shift of the mind and an eventual meditative vantage space at the crest. Alluding to the rising stair paths found on Mayan Temples, the artist made use of the sites archaic architectural qualities to position her viewers to feel as though they had stepped into the distant past--whether meditating on 8,000 years of Chumash habitation, or the mysterious disappearance of the Mayan civilizations. 

The Moving Clouds performance on Saturday, September 10th, by Minoosh Zomorodinia, was sited in front of the aviary where she engaged visitors along a path while they passed through on their way to the Tiny Porches monthly concert series. Dressed in all white, including her hijab, with several layers of shiny silver Mylar sheeting overlaid, the artist performed a series of personal ritual actions including repetitions of walking, marching, and jumping to animate her concerns for the changing climate. The reflective material was used to visually connect with nature, land, and the physicality of the human body, while re-creating the sounds of the oceans.

Special thanks goes to Ranger Tori Kuykendall who invited ecoartspace to curate this summer art-in-the-park program, and to Ben Allanoff who suggested ecoartspace to Tori and laid the groundwork for Enchantment to happen. Thanks to the artists Karen Rietzel, Faith Purvey and Minoosh Zomorodinia for their thoughtful installations, and again to Ben Allanoff for his dedication to making art-in-nature and his additional installation made with Park staff along with volunteers from Santa Monica College and inmates from Malibu Conservation Camp #13. The playful sculpture made from cut fallen trees on Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area property is titled Wood/Trees, and was designed and guided by Allanoff as a collaboration to amplify the creative energy and spirit of trees.


Jackie Brookner, Of Nature: A Retrospective at Wave Hill

The opening reception for Jackie Brookner: Of Nature will take place at Wave Hill on Saturday September 17th from 2 – 4:30pm. This will be the first retrospective tracing the expansive work of Jackie Brookner (1945–2015), an artist who was deeply engaged with the environment. Brookner’s groundbreaking, remediative sculptural environments were designed as ecological filters to cleanse gray water, urban storm water or agricultural runoff. This exhibition will connect the underpinnings of Brookner’s early sculptures and drawings to her ongoing exploration of materiality, which was informed by bodily touch and, particularly, the human hand. 

Spanning Brookner's entire career, the exhibition will include a selection of bronze sculptures from the 1980s and her seminal Of Earth and Cotton project, which traveled through the South in the 1990’s, including video interviews with cotton field workers by Terry Iacuzzo. Documentation of her commissioned water remediation projects in San Jose, CA; West Palm Beach, FL; Cincinnati, OH; Fargo, ND; and Salo, Finland will also be presented along with a selection of her studio drawings that were never formally exhibited.

Brookner wrote in 2010 that her first 20 years as a sculptor were “a period of introversion” that led eventually to the realization that her “work could be ‘of’ nature, rather than ‘about’ it.”  Over the next 20, she adds, “I have learned that beyond the science and the practical function, successful ecological restoration/remediation demands addressing the societal/cultural values that have allowed humans to dissociate from and be at war with the natural systems of which we are part.” 

In addition to these fundamental themes, the influence of feminism is evident in her mixed-media rubber and fabric sculptures, work that materializes the inner body. Ultimately, Brookner found her place in the vanguard of artists who are catalysts for environmental and social change. In her first public art projects, she sought out places where she could be part of a team to remediate tough ecological questions, collaborating with scientists, planners and other artists, notably Susan Leibovitz Steinman and Angelo Ciotti.

Jackie Brookner (b. 1945 Providence, RI; d. 2015 New York, NY) was based in New York City during her entire artistic career. A passionate teacher, she inspired students at Parsons The New School for Design from 1980 until the time of her death. From 2000, she created public projects for wetlands, rivers, streams and storm-water runoff that unite water remediation and public art. Throughout her career, she exhibited widely and was included in many publications on the topic of public art and environmental remediation.

Jackie Brookner: Of Nature is curated by ecoartspace NY curator Amy Lipton and Wave Hill Senior Curator Jennifer McGregor. The exhibition will run from September 13–December 4, 2016. An illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition. Plans are underway for the show to travel, and potential venues are currently being sought.

An interview with Jackie Brookner and ecoartspace founder Patricia Watts can be viewed here as well as her website and TedTalk interview

Wave Hill Public Programming with the exhibition includes:

September 17, 2016, 2–4:30PM, Fall Exhibition Reception, with curators’ tour at 3pm.                                                                                                                                                                        
November 11, 2016, 10:30AM–5PM, Of Nature Symposium. Celebrating the legacy of Jackie Brookner, this day of presentations and conversation will reflect on the artist’s contributions, and will spotlight environmental, socially engaging projects that artists are pursuing around the country. Featured conversations include Stacy Levy with Jennifer McGregor, and Mierle Laderman Ukeles with Amy Lipton.

For further information, a complete press release or images please contact: 
Martha Gellens 718.549.3200 x232 or marthag@wavehill.org


Enchantment at Peter Strauss Ranch


In 1999 I curated an art-in-nature exhibition at Escondido Phoenix Ranch Retreat in Escondido Canyon, Malibu. It was developed as a 10-day residency with ten artists creating site works along a mile trail. The works were reviewed in Sculpture magazine by Collette Chattopadhyay and over a three-day Memorial weekend some 300+ people came to view the installations

While at Paramount Ranch 3 art fair this past January I was thinking it would be fun to do another site project in the Santa Monica Mountains. The next thing you know, I was invited to curate at Peter Strauss Ranch in Agoura Hills by the National Park Service! Of course, I wish the budget were bigger and I could invite more artists to participate, but I think we have a sweet show, pulled together very quickly over the last two months. 

The works will remain up through the summer and we will do a closing performance on September 10th. With additional funding we can add a few more installations in June and August, fingers crossed. 

Opening reception/talk with artists on June 5th, Sunday at 2pm

Patricia Watts, curator/ecoartspace

Facebook invitation HERE 


Cloud House at Farmer's Park - Springfield, MO

Almost two years ago ecoartspace invited Matthew Mazzotta to Springfield, Missouri to propose a public art installation for Farmers Park, a LEED certified multi-use development. After meeting with the local community during a public living room conversation, the artists' format for gathering information to conceptualize his projects, Mazzotta went back to the drawing board. He came up with several ideas which he then presented to the owner of the development while in residence on the property spring 2015. By the end of June, there was consensus to green light the construction of the permanent public artwork that is titled Cloud House.

Cloud House is an iconic 'House' clad with barn wood, a tin roof, and a 'Cloud' suspended directly above the structure. Inside the house are rocking chairs that when sat upon triggers the cloud to rain drops of water onto the roof creating the sound of 'rain on a tin roof,' a poetic experience that echoes our connection to the natural world. Through an elegant design and engineering feat this whimsical and visually uplifting public sculpture engages a sense of disbelief. As the water flows down the tin roof and into an internal water reserve, water is directed to two side windows where it falls into planters below that are growing greens for public consumption. 

This work is meant to provoke conversations around exploring the local, questions of ecology and dissecting the systems that make up our "everyday" experiences. Mazzotta is a graduate of the MIT Visual Studies Masters of Science Program and has won several awards for his project OPEN HOUSE in York, Alabama that he completed in 2013. For the last two years he has also been working with four communities in Nebraska to create public works through ArtPlace America and hosted by the Center for Rural Affairs titled "Byway of Art." It is his feeling that rural and mid-America locales are a hotbed for achieving meaningful public art projects. 

There will be a public dedication with the artist on site at Farmers Park, Saturday April 23rd to celebrate Earth Day and to acknowledge the first ever permanent interactive public sculpture created in the City of Springfield. The project was funded by Art for All through the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

For more information on Matthew Mazzotta, go to his website HERE

Images by Tim Hawley


"Antarctica" panel discussion with artist Lucy Orta

On February 17th ecoartspace NY curator Amy Lipton participated on a panel discussion with artist Lucy OrtaNYU Professor of Environmental Studies and Philosophy Dale Jamieson, and founder of Parley for the Oceans Cyrill Gutschwho served as moderator for the event. 

The discussion took place in conjunction with the Lucy and Jorge Orta exhibition, Antarctica at Jane Lombard Gallery in Chelsea.This ongoing project by the Ortas is based on their expedition to Antarctica in 2007 and was the title of this exhibition, their first solo in New York. Cyrill Gutsch asked the panelists questions about the relationship of art and design to environmental issues and activism. Discussed at length was the artists' role in raising awareness and confronting urgent, challenging issues such as climate change, sea level rise, food and water shortages, ocean pollution and over-population.

Antarctica featured works created for the artists’ expedition to the Antarctic peninsula, addressing issues such as human survival in adverse situations. The Ortas installed an ephemeral “Antarctic Village” on the continent, composed of 50 domelike sculptures constructed with flags from countries around the world. They also created and raised the first Antarctic Flag, to symbolize the unification of nations around shared common values.

Antarctica embodies utopia: a continent whose extreme climate encourages mutual aid and solidarity, freedom of research, sharing, and collaboration for the good of the planet. The centerpiece of the exhibition was The Antarctic World Passport Delivery Bureau, a traveling installation recently presented at the Grand Palais in Paris during the COP21 UN Climate Summit. Visitors encountered an architectural assemblage made from reclaimed materials, and received a uniquely numbered Antarctica World Passport.  In exchange recipients pledge to support the project’s principles: to take action against the disastrous effects of global warming and strive for peace. Since 2008, 55,000 passports have been printed, and visitors to Lucy + Jorge Orta’s exhibition at the Jane Lombard Gallery were able to to register for their personalized passport edition, and to join this growing community of world citizens. www.antarcticaworldpassport.com

To watch a video segment from the panel discussion please go to this link.


Some Kind of Nature

The Art of Sustainability Symposium took place on Friday February 19th and Saturday February 20th in Palm Bay, Florida, and featured nationally noted guest speakers from the  art and science communities highlighting advancements in art and sustainability, including: Mississippi River's Chad Pregracke of Living Lands and Waters, biologist Wendy Anderson, Marty Baum of Riverkeeper Alliance, kinetic artist Ralfonso Gschwend, Keith Winsten from the Brevard Zoo, Trevor Gibson of Environmental Advantage, and Patricia Watts, founder/curator of ecoartspace
Wendy Anderson gave a presentation on her perspective as a biologist of the unique ways in which artists and scientists are similar, and how these characteristics offer opportunities for both domains when using the imagination to solve the environmental issues at hand. Keynote speaker Chad Pregracke gave a presentation of his 18-year ongoing effort to clean up the Mississippi River, including 856 clean ups of 23 rivers with 93,000 volunteers. He also shared with us images of his low tech/high tech barge that looks like a great opportunity for artist residencies on the Mississippi. 

Florida's habitat ecoartist Jesse Etelson was also involved and presented an interactive habitat sculpture made of driftwood for families of the sustainability Community Day! And, Patricia Watts of ecoartspace presented site projects that employ wind, water, and solar including both proposals, and permanent and temporal public art works such as Windsock Currents at Crissy Field in the Presidio, which she sited for the UN World Environment Day in 2005, and Cloud House that she curated for Farmer's Park in Springfield, Missouri working Matthew Mazzotta in 2015. Other projects included Mags Harries and Lajo Heder's Sunflowers in Austin, Texas, and proposals from the 2012 and 2014 Land Art Generator Initiative competitions, as well as Buster Simpson's waste water cisterns, Betsy Damon's Living Water Garden, and Eve Mosher's HighWaterLine. Her talk wrapped up with a work she feels is long overdue to be implemented, Andrea Polli's Queens Bridge Windpower Project, and then in contrast, the bloated $15.5 million dollar unsustainable work by Olafur Eliasson, NYC Waterfalls. The title of her talk Some Kind of Nature was borrowed from the song by the Gorillaz. 

There was a closing panel on Saturday discussing climate science with a couple members of the audience questioning the data and the validity of climate change. It was apparent that this is an area where the sciences can benefit from the arts in presenting the data in order to help the general public understand the science. There is still much work to do!


Tipping Points at Bergen Community College

Tipping Points: Artists Address the Climate Crises will take place at Gallery Bergen timed in conjunction with the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21, held in Paris, from November 30 to December 11th. It will be the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The conference objective is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations from all the nations of the world. 

Artists can use their skills and imagination to address the issue of climate change. Artworks towards this cause are now being seen in unprecedented numbers. The artists in Tipping Points use a variety of mediums including painting, photography, video, sculpture and drawing. Some have been partnering with scientists and environmental organizations. Others have been researching and documenting changes in glaciers and diminishing ice on trips to far northern regions of the planet; including boat trips to the Arctic and Antarctic. Some take a more poetic and imaginative approach to confront the seriousness of the issue and single biggest challenge of our time.

Many hope for a technological breakthrough or miracle solution, while others believe that adaptation and fortifications can be built to mitigate harm. Science deniers in the political system clearly have their heads in the sand. The intensity of the power struggle over climate change, believers vs. non believers, has only grown over the years since this 1988 statement by Michael McElroy, Professor of Environmental Studies, Harvard University: "If we choose to take on this challenge, it appears that we can slow the rate of change substantially, giving us time to develop mecha​nisms so that the cost to society and the damage to ecosystems can be minimized. We could alternatively close our eyes, hope for the best, and pay the cost when the bill comes due."  

Curated by Amy Lipton for Gallery Bergen, Paramus, New Jersey