Ghosts of the Gulf by Brandon Ballengée at the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries

Currently on view at the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries is an exhibition I've organized with artist/biologist Brandon Ballengée. The exhibition titled Ghosts of the Gulf includes several stark and brilliantly colorful images of marine species collected in the Gulf of Mexico directly following the deadly 2010 Deep Water Horizons (DWH) oil spill disaster. Ballengée will give a talk about his work and a reception will take place on Saturday, December 13 from 5 – 7 pm at the BIRE gallery on Main Street in Beacon, NY. Register here.

Ballengée's artistic and scientific inquiry has focused on the rapid decline of amphibian populations around the world and the occurrence of developmental deformities among amphibians. He has received international attention for this work as well as his scientific research publications. Ballengée’s work as a biologist looks at amphibians as bio-indicator species, particularly their development in complex ecosystems and the proximate causes for developmental deformities among wild populations. “Understanding amphibians at this point in history is very important as they are suffering from rapid wide-spread population declines at over 40% in less than half a century” said Ballengée. Though the Gulf of Mexico species depicted in Ghosts of the Gulf do not appear to show deformities, Ballengée, hypothesizes as to why; “The subjects in Ghosts were found shortly after the spill so do not have any obvious morphological abnormalities, however we don’t know what the long term impacts of the spill yet will be, on these species or even our own”. These images of species once common to the Gulf, represents a creative process that blurs the lines between art and biology. Ballengée’s specimen-subjects transition from their once living state to brightly colored x-rays revealing the complex architectural anatomy of these beautiful and vanishing species. 

It's very exciting to be partnering on an exhibition of such importance as Ballengée’s Ghosts of the Gulf with the Beacon Institute, an environmental research nonprofit engaging scientists, engineers, and environmentalists, to apply diverse intellectual and physical resources to the water challenges of the 21st century. I've been fortunate in having the opportunity to work with Ballengée several times over the past 12 years beginning with my pioneering exhibition and book Ecovention in 2002 at the Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati. In 2007 I collaborated with Ballengée and the Central Park Arsenal Gallery, Audubon and The Nature Conservancy on Silent Migration, an exhibition focused on the 300 species of birds that migrate through New York City each year. I included Ballengée in my public exhibition BiodiverCITY, which took place in Washington D.C. in 2012 as part of the 5 x 5 public art exhibition hosted by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Ballengée constructed one of his signature works, Love Motel For Insects, an outdoor light installation that formed giant dragonfly wings out of fabric using ultra-violet lights to attract insects at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. More recently I curated The Cryptic Ones, Salamander Portraits by Ballengee and Stanley K. Session at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Philadelphia.

The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill was the largest environmental disaster in the history of the United States, with devastating impacts to one of the most important and biologically diverse habitats in the world: the Gulf of Mexico. Ghosts of the Gulf is on display at Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, Clarkson University now through March 8, 2015. The images are courtesy of the artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in New York City.


GO LOCAL!!! Oregon County, Missouri

This past weekend I drove two hours southeast of Springfield, Missouri to a little town near the border of Arkansas called Alton. In this neck of the woods, everyone remembers when in 1964 the Beatles took a break on the nearby Pigman Farm during their very first American tour. In fact, this year was the 50th anniversary and although the locals have consciously chosen not to turn their town of 879 into a shrine to the Beatles, they did dress up their windows for the anniversary, which was mostly for the town residents, and not to draw tourism. 
My reason to visit Alton was by invitation of a very bright and determined, Rachel Reynolds Luster, who was born and raised in the region, and who over the last three years has pulled together the resources, with the help of local producers, to create the Oregon County Food Producers and Artisan Co-op. I found her via Facebook last summer and reached out to learn more about her work as a culture producer and her focus on Ozark Heritage. Through her work I have learned about several rural arts programs that I find so refreshing, artists operating outside the confines of urban art centers. Coming from Northern California where many small towns have been revived over the last decade, I see much potential in the literally thousands of small towns left behind from the early 1980s, when many small farmers went bankrupted. 
The Co-op (a membership model), helps support local farmers and artisans by providing a hub for them to sell their goods. Rachel also provides an area for playing music with a piano, a rotating art exhibition, and an education corner or library of local music and written Ozark folklore. She has been collecting stories, and photographs of the regional architecture and even taught me the names of the types of homes you find here (which my grandparents lived in on their farm), flagstone and saddlebag. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, you can find her and other community members in the kitchen cooking up lunch for local visitors, "pay what you can," offering something like what she served me, which was homemade pimento cheese on grilled bread along with pinto beans.
What Rachel has created in Alton could help revive small towns across the Midwest, helping communities that have literally died culturally, and are struggling to survive economically. There is no better cure for social dysfunction than to create a safe place for community members to be themselves, to contribute to their "neighbors" by volunteering to make foods to feed those with less, to make things to sell and barter, and to teach each other our histories and build on these stories to foster the next generation of farmers and makers.

Other rural arts programs and resources to check out include:


Matthew Mazzotta at Farmers Park

Since moving to the Ozarks, my genetic region of five generations, I have been trying to figure out a way to contribute to the local arts scene. This past summer I received a Call for Artists through the Springfield Regional Arts Council that a local developer, Matt O'Reilly, was looking for proposals to include public art at Farmers Park, his LEED multi-use development with apartments, retail, and a large pavilion where the Farmers Market of the Ozarks has their bi-weekly public market. I contacted Jeff Broekhoven, who coordinated the Call, and who invited me to meet him on-site to walk the property and find out more about the project. I then inquired if they would accept a proposal by an artist from outside of this region in collaboration with myself as an independent curator to meet with people in the community first before making a formal proposal. Broekhoven encouraged me to apply, so I contacted an artist who I have wanted to work with for a few years.... Matthew Mazzotta, a nationally recognized artist from MIT who recently won an American for the Arts Public Art award in recognition of his excellence for a community arts project titled Open House, completed in 2013 in York, Alabama. 

Without delay, our proposal was accepted and on October 15th, 2014 Matthew Mazzotta held one of his unique community arts strategies, an outdoor living room where he posed a series of questions from participants to evoke a sense of place that will inform his proposed work to be build/sited next Spring 2015! Questions he asked included: what are some unknown histories, what is the towns identity, what are the challenges facing the community, and what is something special or something secret about the town.... participants were invited to bring something from their living room, a chair, a table, a lamp, a blanket.... and, their ideas and understanding of their surrounding culture. 

The Ozarks in Southwest Missouri is a big mix of religions, ecological biodiversity, musicians, wacky entertainment in nearby Branson, charities, and hide-outs (caves)! After spending five nights at Farmers Park-in-residence, Matthew Mazzotta will spend the next couple months developing his public artwork, which will be presented to the developer Matt O'Reilly at the beginning of the year. We look forward to having Mazzotta back in the Ozarks to visit some of the Mega churches in the area as well as the very progressive international seed company near Mansfield, the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, and more farms and caves.... in the near future.


The Land Institute Prairie Festival 2014

Since moving to the Midwest last summer in 2013, I've been searching out organizations that are focused on art and agriculture. Upon my arrival, ecological art scholar, Suzaan Boettger in New York City, told me to go to the Prairie Festival, which is an annual gathering, an "intellectual hootenanny," organized by The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. Its founder, Wes Jackson, has been inviting global innovators to speak addressing land conservation and food issues for 36 years. Jackson proposed the development of a perennial polyculture in 1978.

Speakers are not allowed to bring slide/powerpoint presentations and are asked to talk to attendees, typically around 1,000, although this year was around 700, with words only. It felt like a Midwest prairie version of a Chatquaqua and at times like a church sermon addressing land issues. In fact, this year, the last weekend of September, Wes invited several speakers to address religion and land ethics, to examine a more spiritual approach to living sustainably on the land/Earth.                                                  

Although I was interested in the spiritual aspects of our relationship with the land, I was most impressed with Kristine McDivitt Tompkins and her husband Douglas Tompkins, who together have managed to purchase over two million acres of land in Chile and Argentina and turn it into a National Park. After all these years of attending Bioneers conferences and other ecological restoration gatherings, I had never laid eyes on these two and only heard stories about what they were doing in South America. And, although Kristine was frustrated not to be able to share images of their preservation efforts—parkland—her words were powerful and made me realize that we really need to acknowledge people like these two pioneers who took their hundreds of millions of dollars and did something lasting with it. 

Kristine and Douglas who are very competitive by nature, both highly successful business peopleshe the former CEO of Patagonia and he the former owner of North Face and co-owner of former Esprit—made it their game to give back to the Earth rather than take away from it. The images she wanted to share of the parkland became secondary to the testament of their character, sharing how they decided to do something bigger (or more spiritual?) with what money can buy.

Needless to say, I would highly recommend this event to those who want to experience a more understated like-minded gathering, not a commerical hoopla with booths selling products. The food was amazing, including bread made from Kernza flour from the Institute lands courtesy WheatFields Bakery in Lawrence and Saturday night chili, both vegetarian and bison, were so yummy I wanted seconds (but no, they don't do that). My only complaint!

Each year The Land Institute features one artist who creates an installation in the buildings adjacent to the main lecture barn. This year A. Mary Kay, who teaches at Bethany College in Kansas, was selected. The artist was also recently included in the State of the Art exhibition at Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, Arkansas this fall. More HERE

For more information, go to The Land Institute Prairie Festival 2014!

See you there next year..... Patricia Watts


The recently completed S.O.S. ACTION Guide is ready for download HERE!

This is the second in a series of ten Learning Guides produced by ecoartspace including replicable social practice public art works. Since 2009, Tattfoo Tan has developed S.O.S. to include participation in certification programs for composting, pruning, and community engagement, then expanded on his acquired knowledge to educate others through his mobile and urban garden projects to address food security and sustainability. 

The S.O.S. ACTION Guide was developed to accommodate a wide range of participants including nonprofit organizations, school groups, and individuals. It can easily be used for a weekend workshop, an entire semester, or annual project of self- exploration, certifications, and community projects. The guide is considered to be a reproducible tool for anyone interested in taking action addressing issues around sustainability. 

The guide is FREE, although we ask for your support and feedback as we continue to seek funding to complete the next eight guides including Katie Holten's Tree Museum, Fallen Fruit's public fruit mapping, and more! Please make a donation to ecoartspace HERE

Guide Authors:
Patricia Watts, Lead Author
Tattfoo Tan, S.O.S. Artist
Ian Garrett, Sustainability section
Chris Fremantle, Food Security section
Christopher Kennedy, Action Steps, Supplemental Activities and Core Standards Alignment

Special thanks to Melanie Franklin Cohen, Staten Island Arts
Supported in part by individual donors from the S.O.S. Indiegogo campaign


Click on the S.O.S. ACTION GUIDE image above to go to the ecoartspace ACTION Guide webpage where you can also download our first guide, the HighWaterLine guide.


FOODshed: Art and Agriculture in Action

An exhibition of upstate/downstate NY artists who work with food and agriculture
Curated by Amy Lipton, ecoartspace
92 Plymouth Street at Washington
Brooklyn, NY 11201
June 7 to July 27, 2014
Opening reception: Saturday, June 7, 5pm-8pm

FOODshed: Agriculture and Art in Action focuses on sustainable agriculture, entrepreneurship, and artists' use of food as subject matter or medium. The exhibition and programming include 14 exhibiting artists in the gallery at Smack Mellon, 3 public projects in the nearby DUMBO community, as well as public workshops in collaboration with the artists in the exhibition. The gallery exhibition features artworks and inventive projects around agriculture and food that address farming as both activism and art form. Many of the artists in this exhibition are known for bringing community-specific issues into their work and are exploring the real-world implications of small-scale farming and raising community awareness about our food systems. Their varied practices include growing food, cooking food, raising animals for food, and engaging communities around local food production as well as instigating new artist-based economies. 

The artists working in New York State today in the realm of food and farming coincide with a larger cultural awakening regarding the ills of our present system, such as the distances food travels to supermarket shelves and the effects of shipping and transport on climate change. Brooklyn has become the epicenter for food activism and culinary explorations. Artists have joined food activists in focusing on environmental problems such as lack of biodiversity in mono-cultural farms, the loss of top soil and nutrient-poor soil, the abuse and poor conditions of feedlot and factory raised animals, the conversion of farmland into housing, and the waste of un-harvested crops. Artists are now farming not only to raise their own food in order to become self-reliant and to eat more healthily, but also to offer alternative and sustainable approaches within their local communities. 

For the artists in FOODshed, the acts of cultivation, growing, and by implication educating have evolved to a deeper level of activism where the boundaries of real world and art completely disappear. Their projects present new paradigms regarding the growing, production, distribution and consumption of food. The artists in this exhibition advocate for an organic, regional and local approach, which they are manifesting in their own lives.

Patricia Watts, founder of ecoartspace who curated Hybrid Fields in 2006 will moderate FOODprint, a panel discussion on food and climate to investigate the current national debate about our food systems and the intersection of farming, culture and climate as it relates to the Upstate/NYC focus of the FOODshed exhibition. Panelists: Jennifer Grossman, Famer/NRDC Food Systems Advocate; Ben Flanner, Farmer, Brooklyn Grange; Josh Morgenthau, Farmer and Entrepreneur Good Eggs; Linda Weintraub, Artist/Writer; Tattfoo Tan, Artist; John Gorzynski, Farmer, Gorzynski Ornery Farm.

FOODshed will offer workshops at Smack Mellon in collaboration with the artists in the exhibition and With Food in Mind, a nomadic organization operating at the intersection of food, visual culture, and social change that develops drop-in workshops, afterschool classes, and other educational programs that dynamically combine art and food. Check the Smack Mellon website for further information on workshops here. 


S.O.S. Indiegogo campaign - DEADLINE March 28th

Times are tough, we get that! ecoartspace set out to raise $4,000 in December last year to start developing our next two ACTION guides and have not met our goal yet (see below). Here we are again, to say, ecoartspace cannot exist on air alone.... we are now collaborating with the Staten Island Arts Culture Lounge who will be presenting an exhibition of Tattfoo Tan's S.O.S. projects in May, to raise $8,000 for his exhibition installation and the S.O.S. ACTION Guide.

There are lots of great perks that Tattfoo has created over the years with all of his amazing projects. We encourage you to participate, to tell friends, to go to the Indiegogo page, to make any size contribution, to help us make sure that Tan's community work is acknowledged in the art world, as well as distributed through out the planet! 

Help us ensure that anyone can have access online to the 36-page S.O.S. ACTION Guide that ecoartspace will produce in the next two months with your help.