Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The artist's role as an agent for social change

I have had the opportunity to talk to a number of different groups lately about the HighWaterLine project. Other than sharing stories about the experience and the people I met and talking about all of the logistics, I like to engage in a discussion of the role of artist as agent for social change. Here are some roles that I thought the artist should/could take on:

commentator - not merely to editorialize on contemporary issues, but to translate. it is important to go beyond the act of regurgitation and create a work that incites questions and action.

collaborator - work with science & scientists to create works that are approachable, making complex knowledge accessible, and to take this into under-served communities.

witness - to observe the communities and their reactions

storyteller - taking information to the streets and then returning stories and that which was witnessed

catalyst - for change in thought and attitude, instigator for discussion

innovator - restructuring the message and dialogue through artistic acts

community builder - by providing an object or act around which people can rally.

I will see if I can't flesh these out more in the coming weeks.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Just thinking out loud...

So, I am just thinking out loud here, but I have been thinking about the creative process and the current funding models for artists and their projects. My favorite funding model (of course) is that of Creative Capital. They award an initial grant and then can provide follow up grants during key points of the project to take advantage of new opportunities and to ensure its success. They also (I love this part) focus on developing the artists career long term by developing the artist. They provide workshops on professional development which teach fundraising, strategic planning and pr/marketing (I happen to know a lot about these workshops). They also provide extensive one on one consultations, referrals to other professionals and an extended network. They really nurture the whole artist. What this does is ensure that the artist's career is successful beyond any single project.So here's what I am thinking - and it is still a little muddy - why not create a loan program that operates in a similar way. Loan artists project monies, train them to ensure the project is successful and as their careers blossom they pay the money back (CC asks all grantees to reinvest - once they reach some level of success many of the artists give donations to CC). Maybe this loan program can be combined with the Artist Pension Trust model? Their model requires participating artists to donate artworks to a pool which is sold after a number of years in which the participating artists' value is expected to increase, then the entire pool of artists shares the proceeds.So maybe the loan program takes in artworks as payment as well. There is certainly some risk involved, and some works will end up with greater value than others, but it may indeed be worth the risk. (Predicated on having object based work or ancillary product to sell).
Anyway, like I said, just thinking out loud here...

Images, top to bottom:
Chris Doyle, "Leap," Creative Capital Grantee & Artist Pension Trust Participant
Sanford Biggers, "Kalenda" (mistitled on photo),
Creative Capital Grantee & Artist Pension Trust Participant

Monday, November 26, 2007

When art becomes "something useful and or valued"

com·mod·i·ty : \kə-mä-də-tē\
Function: noun | Inflected Form(s): plural - com·mod·i·ties | Etymology: Middle English commoditee, from Anglo-French commoditee, from Latin commoditat-, commoditas, from commodus | Date: 15th century
1: an economic good: as a: a product of agriculture or mining b: an article of commerce especially when delivered for shipment <commodities futures> c: a mass-produced unspecialized product <commodity chemicals> <commodity memory chips>
2 a: something useful or valued commodity patience>; also: thing, entity b: convenience, advantage
3: obsolete: quantity, lot
4: a good or service whose wide availability typically leads to smaller profit margins and diminishes the importance of factors (as brand name) other than price
5: one that is subject to ready exchange or exploitation within a market

I was recently asked to explain how I am able to create (fund and find audience for) the kind of work that I do. This question was from someone who a) is professionally interested in managing creative careers and making money (sustainable art) and b) who is steeped in more traditional models within the visual arts world, but has some knowledge in new methods of distribution and funding in the literary, film and music industries. So let's break this down.
First, the kind of work that I do: I create (in addition to a more traditional studio based practice) temporary, performative based public artworks. Some have sculptural aspects and all have a community building and/or eco-visualization aspect. Most of these projects do not produce a single representative object which can be bought or sold. I am currently using the term "non-object based work." I use this to describe my work and the work of some friends of mine. Some other examples are, Lise Brenner, a choreographer whose most recent projects include a choreographic charting of native flora in Brooklyn which resulted in directions which could be applied to a performance as the final product (not an actual performance) and a historical investigation of a neighborhood through sound work and tours. Aaron Landsman is a performer who created a sound work that was a tour of a day in the life of a neighborhood and a performance which is produced in individual's apartments. Stephanie Skaff whose recent project was a street performance in which she set up a street vendor cart in Lower Manhattan to share stories from street vendors around NYC (it was the culmination of months of going out and meeting and speaking to many many vendors around the city). None of these artists' works result in specific objects which can be bought or sold and neither of them have set up situations which are subject to ticketing for a traditional performance.

Now it should be noted that we are not in a unique situation. There are numerous historical precedence to all that we are doing: Richard Long's Walks, William Pope L.'s performance/crawls, numerous earthworks (Smithson's Spiral Jetty, Michael Heizer's Double Negative, Walter de Maria's Lightening Field, the list goes on), a variety of conceptual artworks and even some dadaist non-object based work. So it's not like we don't have a point of reference.

Second, who is this for: The work that I and many of my contemporaries working in a "non-object based" way is done in such a way as to engage a larger audience than one might find in a traditional gallery or performance space. In a sense, we are preaching way beyond the choir. Whether it is someone passing by on the street in Canarsie as I draw the chalk line with whom I engage in a conversation about climate change or a stockbroker who never thought twice about his daily stop at the coffee cart until he met with Stephanie. So the projects are all really broad based and interested in participating in a wider social discussion.

Third, what is the current funding? Currently, most of these projects are funded through foundations and municipal or state funds. In my case, almost 50% of my project time is taken up through grant applications and writing. I am sure it is similar in other cases as well. This funding is really wonderful as it comes as a project based monetary amount, with no strings attached and - here's a nice thing you may not know - most (if not all) funders require that you include in your budget an artists fee. They want to know that they, in supporting the project, are supporting the artist. If you have been a lucky (is that the right word? its quite a lot of work for it to be luck) recipient of a grant, then you that you will be required to do periodic reporting on how the money is being spent and what is happening with the project. Other than that, don't expect a whole lot of interaction (unless you get a Creative Capital grant). The granting agency doesn't interfere with the work, nor do they, though, provide much formal support. Some might profile your project in their outreach, some might provide feedback, but mostly it is up to the recipient to make the project succeed or fail.

A portion of the funding may also come from private donations - frequently made up of "friends and family grants" and - euphemism - "self-funding." These sources may ebb and flow based on project frequency and/or outside competition for money. While it is frequently true that if you ask someone for a donation they will give it, it is also true that it is hard to repeatedly hit up the same people without any reward.
And as much as I like to believe in the abundance of funds available to artists, grants are definitely limited. And with some recent changes in the world of major funders, the money available is shrinking. So we are looking for new ways to create sustainable careers.

The commodity model: This model implies a specific object of value which can be traded in exchange for money. The traditional gallery/dance/performance system is based on trade. You give me money, I give you an object or a specified moment of time which is valued based on the opinions of others. This model is heavily dependent on a) an object or ticketed performance b) the perceived value of your creation (perceived by people other than the artist). For those of us working outside of the traditional object based practice, we can produce sale-able items (for example I have the beacons, documentary photos and maps, Stephanie has CD's of her conversations with street vendors - although I think she gave those away for free), but the goal of the practice is not the object - therefore the value of the object is often diminished.

A new funding model: I don't have an answer for this yet. It is what all this thinking is leading up to. However there are a lot of new models out there for other practices and funds:
  • artistshare.com - this new model allows music fans to directly participate in the creation of new music/cd's. a patron can donate to the musician and in return receive anything from a glimpse inside the recording process, to attending a recording session to being an executive producer on the album
  • artist pension trust - using artworks as investment, this trust accumulates works of many artists and distributes revenue from art sales to all artists
  • self-publishing/distribution for literature, films & music - more sites are popping up making it easier to manage your own career in these media, including lulu.com, withoutabox, cdbaby...

So I am thinking about how to create a new paradigm for supporting the arts - is it modeled as a mix between artistshare, artist pension trust and creative capital grantmaking? If you have specific thoughts, or want to join in the larger conversation (I am putting together a group of interested individuals to have a larger discussion), then leave a comment.

images from top to bottom:
yves klein, "jumping into the void"
aaron landsman, image from "Gatz" performance by Elevator Repair Service
lise brenner, matrix from "The City from a Plant's Perspective: Mapping NYC as Native Flora"
michael heizer, "double negative"
richard long, "a line made by walking"
eve s. mosher, "HighWaterLine"
stephanie skaff, "Make Me One with Everything"

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What do I know anyway?

That's just a throwaway title. I couldn't think of anything so I put that in there. But in a way it kind of leads into what I wanted to talk about.

First though, let me say that I haven't been posting lately because I haven't seen or done a lot. Well thats not true, its just maybe not that interesting for blogging other than sort of a social calendar or something like that. So I have been rebuilding my website (which is why I am feeling antsy with the look of this blog and keep playing with it - none the less it will all get fixed up all nice when I finish the site - it is very nearly there), and I have been writing more grant applications, which is a total time suck. Write me if you want all the gory details.

Anyway, I have been talking to a lot of people about the two projects - the green roof project and the bus shelter project. Most people are pretty into it. But once in a while (and this happened with HWL too) I get a nay-sayer. It's not that they are trying to be negative. They really just want to help or to ask questions about the project (all well and good!). But I think I would prefer someone who comes with ideas instead of just problems. I met with the native plant botanist at Brooklyn Botanic Gardens (love that place) the other day. He had some concerns about the types of plants that could grow in "nutrient poor, limited water, exposed" situations like the proposed projects. But instead of tell me how it wouldn't work, or list all of the obstacles, he suggested that I look at coastal plants as a good option - cool! - I love that idea!

Thats the kind of can do attitude that will move us all forward.

I had some other stuff I wanted to say, but I have been waking up kinda early lately, and going to bed kinda late so I can't remember much. Will try to get back in the habit of posting about the life and habits of an artist.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Things i didn't know and why i need a clone

Over the past couple of months I have discovered a whole host of words to describe different interests of mine. Plus there are groups devoted to investigating these things.
Urban archaeology

On that note, I met with a cartographer today to brainstorm ideas for the Eyebeam Eco-Visualization Challenge focused on run off issues in the city. And of course there are a lot of great ideas, if only I could clone myself (I think a lot of my creative friends feel the same way). So in addition to the projects I just haven't had time to write about (the water project which attempts to grow plants based on relative per country water consumption, and visualizing waste in our water through floating accumulations - think sculptural) now we have mapping the flow of water in the city (through street intervention, dance or pathway marking), comparative runoff systems placed on top of the bus shelters (the new ones with the glass roofs, each one would represent the immediate area, half the roof would be as is and half would be with remediation), or umbrellas outfitted as walking catchments.

Maybe someone can just give me lots of money to make these happen (because then I could hire some assistants).


Image courtesy of davebeckerman.com

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Artist vs. Activist

Would you consider yourself an artist or an activist?

I get asked this question all the time, and I cringe every time I hear it. Why do I have to label myself as either? Which one means you will take me seriously, respect me and my work and maybe consider what I have to say? Both have their negative connotations. Both have their positive connotations.

I thought I had kind of figured it out, but I don't think I have.

I was asked this question at the HighWaterLine wrap party and here is a paraphrase of an answer that I gave.
"I would have to consider myself an artist. I approached this project from an artistic point of view, I considered the aesthetics as equally as important as the message. I also come from an artistic background. I'm not really an activist, I attended my first ever rally of any kind this year, and that's mostly because I knew the people organizing it.
"I was recently on a panel that specifically discussed the role of arts in environmental issues and the challenges in visualizing the difficult information put forth (it's the Eyebeam Eco-Visualization Challenge). We were talking about art and its power to inform and incite. One of the panelists, Michael Mandiberg asked the question 'Why can't art do something?' Historically at the same time that Duchamp was removing the function from items in order to create art, Russian contemporaries were using their art to foment revolution. So why can't art do something?"

Even this answer left me feeling uneasy. It wasn't helped by my friend Ellen Driscoll coming up to "put a fly in the ointment" to say, why do you have to chose between art and activism? Why can they not coexist. I think she and I may need to sit down and hash some of this out in further conversations, because I do agree with her. I think my above answer was the easy way out.

I am equally as influenced by Wangari Maathai as Agnes Denes. Majora Carter instills in me the same inspiration as Joseph Beuys. Shirin Ebadi, Magdalena Abakonwicz, Jane Jacobs and Ernesto Neto. My circle of friends includes artists and activists. And some, who are both. How do we, both the artists and the activists bridge the gap.

Ellen and I joked about coining new phrases such as "action artist" or "active artist" - as in not dead? I asked.

What is wrong in the art world with being an activist? Would I not be taken seriously as an artist? Is there something wrong with being an artist in the activist world? Are you not given due respect for ideas?

I promise you, more to come on this.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Who let them in?

One thing I have to remind myself is that "public art" has inherently, the word "public" in it.

This has been really driven home during the installation of the beacons during the HighWaterLine project. I have placed the beacons in 5 city parks (sorry that I never got to redo Canarsie) spanning the coast of Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. Most of the installations were fairly peaceful and a nice opportunity to talk to people about New York City and climate change.

Every one of the installations involved at least one act of "public interaction." At the very first installation in Corlear's Hook Park, a gentleman was looking at the beacon, then knelt down, pulled the beacon out of the ground (it is staked on 4 corners) and removed the flashlight in the base. I was standing about 60 feet away and called out, "would you mind putting that back?" he did so, and quietly tried to restake the beacon, all without saying a word.

When I installed in Battery Park a few people would walk up, and without even pausing to look closely at the beacon, grabbed it and roughly shook it back and forth. Much like you would a snowglobe. I have had a lot of opportunity to ponder this, and cannot for the life of me understand what is the point of this activity. To me it is the equivalent of walking up to a friend, seeing that they are wearing an interesting shirt and then grabbing it and pulling them roughly about as if to see if the shirt is going to fall apart in my hands.

This activity, let's call it snowglobing (sounds vaguely rude), has happened at least once in every installation of the beacons, but the real test was the weekend long installation that just occurred as part of the Dumbo Art Center's Art Under the Bridge Festival. This massive art festival consists of installations, performances and projections and general insanity around Dumbo. There are probably around 20-30,000 people who pass through the area over the weekend. I installed the beacons on Friday afternoon and took them out on Sunday evening. Over the weekend the beacons were more than snowglobed, they were knocked down, moved, emptied, turned over, altered and pieces stolen. I don't even want to consider what might have happened that moved one beacon (and the wet, 20 pound bags of sand) about 10 feet from its original location.

Every time I visited they were in disarray. I was sometimes shocked, but mostly amused with a hint of annoyance. I calmly went about resurrecting them, often with the assistance of some kind onlookers. I should make a point that most people are very respectful of the work and treat it carefully, enjoying it in a non-threatening way and ensuring the work is left in tact for other to also enjoy. This was not the case however when a friend and fellow public artist went to visit the work in Brooklyn Bridge Park during the festival. She was so sickened by the obnoxious treatment (including a parent who watched their child knock it about, eventually toppling it) that she had to leave immediately.

So, not to disparage what is obviously a strong and fairly common urge, but if there is anyone out there who has participated in a snowglobing type of activity, we on the art making side of the fence would love to know more about why this is done...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Being in love with the crazy

Last week was kind of a nutty week. I was part of a group show opening at Nelson Hancock Gallery in Dumbo, Topos : Brooklyn, showing images of the HighWaterLine project. All very great there were some really interesting projects/images there, including works by Tim Connor, Rebekah Farley, Michael Iacovoni, Michael Itkoff, Michael Piazza, Michael Simon, and Torrance York. Here's where th crazy comes in, for some reason I had in my head that the opening was this week. So when I talked to Nelson and found out otherwise, Ed & I switched into overdrive to get things figured out. We met Nelson on Saturday morning to see the space and work out what we were going to show. We came up with the idea of doing a 3 1/2" x 170" scroll of many images (37) from the project. I also wanted to put up maps of the upcoming weekends - there were three weekends still to happen after the opening - and then replace the maps with images after the weekend's drawings. Nelson loved both ideas, so we were sent off on our way to get it done and back to them by Wednesday morning for installation.

Saturday afternoon I had made plans with my friends Peter & Cecile to go see the Mike Nelson "A Psychic Vacuum" at the Essex Market (courtesy of Creative Time). It was a good break to take - the installation is fantastic, and really does play with your psyche - time, space emotions are all in there. And I really loved the last space. I won't spoil it, just go see it. It is open until October 28th.
So Saturday evening/Sunday morning I had to sort through all of the photos and pick out about 40 that I wanted to use. Then I met at 10am on Sunday (yeh, I have no weekends anymore) with Ed to pick out the final images and get them in order. I also was making cd's of a bunch of images that I hadn't yet gotten from Ed. Around 1pm I ran home to eat some lunch (and see g-pup, pup-pup and puppykat). Then back over to the studio to meet with our color corrector/printer, Taylor. He and I worked out the schedule to get things back to the gallery on time. The cd's I was trying to copy at the studio were also taking ages to copy. So I left them copying to come home for dinner, then went back to finish copying them. Around 9ish I came back home and sorted through the images and pulled them into photoshop to put them in strips to pass off to Taylor by Monday 9am. So I stayed up until about 1:30am getting it all in order (with the help of g-pup). Woke up the next morning nice and early to walk pup-pup to get myself into the city by 9am to pass off the disc to Taylor before heading off to the day job.

Taylor worked some serious magic on color correcting the images and was ready to review them Monday evening. So I was over in the studio again with Ed & Taylor getting the images in order and ready for the final print. We were supposed to finish the printing that night, but ran out of paper at about midnight! Tuesday Ed got more paper and was going to print the scroll on his printer that evening. Around 7ish he realized his printer wouldn't print something as long at 170" (some epson thing), Taylor was at the photo studio where he could print something that long, but didn't have the files. I ran over to the studio, burned a disc, jumped on a train and headed into the city to hand off to Taylor at about 10pm. Taylor stayed up late (again) getting two prints off for me. I came back into the studio Wednesday morning at 9am and picked up the prints (thanks to Gerard for his help too) and delivered them to the gallery. Whew.

Then Thursday I walked over 14 miles to do the chalking out on the shore parkway. Then took a shower and ran over to the opening. Friday I was up early to do the chalking in Sunset Park Industrial area, then back to the studio, where I was on the phone with the Parks Dept to get the permit in order for Sunday (they had lost the application, but thanks to Eddie & Nancy in Special Events, they got it worked out for me). I ran up to Litchfield Villa, then back home again for a shower and heading into the city for Cynthia's opening and the preview of the Canary Project images.

Again on Saturday an early morning out chalking in Gowanus - it was a gorgeous day for it after the rain moved off. Then jumping on my bike for a windy ride over to the Conflux Festival for the Eyebeam Eco-Visualization Challenge Panel. Where I had the joy of sitting on a panel with some pretty smart, clever and creative people: Amanda McDonald Crowley, Tiffany Holmes, Michael Mandiberg and Brooke Singer. From there I jumped back on my bike to head into Union Square to help my friend Steve with his project, Ronald's Crisis. Back home (great day for a bike ride over the Williamsburg Bridge) to upload images and blog about the weekend.

Sunday another early start out finishing the chalking in Gowanus, joined by my friend Margo, who biked from Washington Heights to South Brooklyn (I love you!). We chalked and then had a fab lunch at the Red Hook soccer fields. Peter and Hose came out to help and document respectively, the installation at the soccer fields. With the help of the kids in the area, I installed the beacons. Which, you should know, consists of carrying the pieces (base, beacons, spikes, flashlight) to the site, laying them out, putting them together, hammering the spikes into the ground, then filling each with 1/3 gallon of water, and cap them all. It's not at all a short task and can be physical. We spent about 2 1/2 hours installing them all (and having 3 broken in the process - no big deal I had 50% overage made, thanks to a suggestion years ago from a prepator who worked with Chihuly who regularly brings 15-25% overage for breakage during installation). After photographing them, I found out the people I thought were coming out that afternoon to help out, weren't going to make it. So I was stuck. I had more chalking to do and it was going to be about 3-4 hours to dark. In Battery Park I was okay to leave the beacons installed while I chalked, but Red Hook was a much more active area and leaving them unattended wasn't going to be a good idea. So, I de-installed them (I know, crazy). Then Hose and Peter left and I did a few more blocks of chalking in Red Hook. Then I went back to the studio to unload, then back to the house to unload the beacons (they live in the apt right now) and pick up g-pup who was going to help me re-install a handful of beacons for the night time portion of the project. So I went back out, re-installed and photographed again. Luckily there was a group of girls who were there during the day that were still there. They got to see the installation at night, and really loved it - having them huddled around the beacon totally made it worthwhile to have come back out to reinstall.Sunday night and Monday were spent uploading images and updating the blogs and websites. Monday afternoon I met Cecile again to try to go catch Stephanie Skaff's street performance, Make Me One With Everything. The performance on Monday had been canceled, so we couldn't find her. (I am going to try to catch it again this morning on my way into the city - after dropping off packets at Nelson Hancock and visiting BBPark to site the beacons).

So this is a REALLY long story to explain one thing - when the crazy is about something you love, then you even love the crazy. I was writing an email to someone this morning outlining the upcoming weekend's work and realized that there will be a couple more crazy days coming up. I paused to think about it and it got me a little excited (despite still being tired from the recent crazy). I really really love creating the projects, I love doing my art, even the crazy. If you don't love what you are doing - then why are you doing it? Do the things that make you crazy but only if you are in love with that crazy. I am in love with my crazy. (Can't wait to spend some time in studio though too!)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

My water tower dream

Where I work I have a great view (if I turn around and strain a bit) of a lot of NoHo, East Village rooftops. From here I can see the buildings dotted with water towers. I love water towers.

One day when I was looking at the roofs while contemplating the Green Seeds project, I thought - whoa - wouldn't those water towers look great swathed in green? It would be so cool to turn them into vertical farms. Heck Rachel Whiteread cast one in resin, why can't I turn a few of them into community gardens?

I had developed a proposal when I was in SF called the Vertical Community Gardens, or VCG's. The idea was to create a superstructure that could be hung in place of the advertisements on the buildings of walls (in SF they are low, at eye level) and maintained and used by the communty.
This is an offshoot of that, only it would be used by the people in the building. I was reading on the Vertical Farm site about their urban farm projects. Maybe they would help build a flexible ultra lightweight water tower superstructure to use as small starter projects. There are three right on the corner of Houston and Crosby that I would love to do. And hey I can see them from my office window!

On another note, if you haven't already, go see the Mike Nelson Creative Time project, A Psychic Vacuum, in the old Essex Market building. It is really hard to explain, but the psychology of space, place and time is really played with here. Spoiler alert -- the last space is quite extraordinary, particularly after having been through the maze of other spaces.

Images (from top to bottom) courtesy of: City Noise, Vertical Farm - Design by Chris Jacobs.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

When prompted-- RUN!

I had dinner last night with two really good friends. The idea was to get together and talk about project ideas, job searches, whatever each person needed help with. Of course for me, the talk was about figuring out which of the three (top of the heap) ideas to pursue. One of my friends said, "Why don't you work on all three?" Holy mackerel! What a novel idea! Part of me thought, no way that's insane, the other part of me thought, that makes perfect sense, of course I should work on them all. (And a tiny little part of me was cowering in the corner). Of course there is the problem of funding all of them, but I guess I can work on that at the same time...

So in light of that discussion, I thought I would throw out the other two ideas and see what sticks.
The first is the Coffee Cup Reduction Project (CCRP). The idea is to find out why people don't use re-usable mugs (since most cafes will both wash them and give you a few cents off your cup o' joe). I would do this through surveying people. Then I would work with a design program at one of the schools and have a design contest for the mug, giving the students the survey data to work with. Next, have the new super cup fabricated (in a lo-energy eco-friendly way!), take those cups back out to the streets and offer to give them to people for free in exchange for their coffee cup. (Pouring their coffee into the new eco-super-cup). From all of the cups and lids collected I will create some sculptures to display with the information on how many cups there are and over what period of time were they collected.
This idea also spun off the idea of the Disposable Culture - What a Waste project. Which would be a sculpture/performance/awareness piece in Union Square. First I would find out how many plastic bags are given away at Filene's and Whole Foods over the course of a week. Then find out how many coffee cups are given away at Starbucks over the course of a week. Finally, how many plastic bottles are sold by the street vendors around the park within a week. Then I would take one week each to build a beach or nature scene using the number of items above. So if there are 65,000 plastic bags per week, I would spend a week in the park building say clouds out of 65,000 used Whole Foods and Filene's bags (that I would have collected before the beginning of the building). Then the next week I would build maybe trees out of the coffee cups & lids, then finally a lake of plastic water bottles. Then it could be on display for a week.
The other project is much simpler to undertake than the Green Seeds or CCRP/Disposable Culture. It is to open a Real Cost Cafe. I would do extensive research regarding the actual life cycle cost of a cup of coffee. (So the cost of the coffee beans if there were no subsidies, if the laborers were paid a fair living wage, if the cost to the planet were factored into the cultivation, roasting and shipping of the beans, and so on with all the products involved in making a cup of coffee). I would open the cafe for just a few weeks, create some good explanatory signage and charge for everything (cup of coffee? $15, don't have your own mug? $4 for paper cup, want a lid? that's $6, sugar? $2 each, milk? another $4, etc). Here's the funny thing, I think some people would pay it. Just to say they are supporting and paying the real cost. Plus if I open it in the Wall Street area, I think those guys would go nutso over it...
Some additional notes on the Green Seeds project, one of my dinner friends liked the idea of string going from house to house because of the reference to connections like phone lines and clothes lines. Another suggestion was green flags on the front of the building, like a symbol of belonging.

So I have a lot on the plate to work on. If you have any thoughts, ideas or want to be a part of any of it - or want to help fund! Then get in touch with me!

Next up: a wikipedia of artist ideas to give away.

Coffee cup image courtesy of Rachel Cartwright/Gazette published in article on coffee cup waste at the University of Western Ontario.
Picture of plastic bottles & plastic bags courtesy of Chris Jordan - whose studies of American culture, Running the Numbers, absolutely ROCKS!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Turning waves into power

Some smart person was sitting looking at the water, watching the undulations and reflections and was smart enough to realize that if they harnessed that energy...

I'm not that smart person, but I am glad they are out there. Instead, I tend to lend my brain to creative pursuits. Albeit hopefully creative pursuits that have a goal, or actionable outcome. So lately, as the High Water Line project continues along (just finished Lower Manhattan - so its back to Brooklyn!), I have been contemplating a couple of things.

First, what to do next. I have a lot of ideas I am playing with, which I will outline below.

And second, how to capitalize on all the media attention around the High Water Line. An artist whom I admire, Chris Doyle, speaks of his first big public art project, Commutable, and he was asked, "Are you ready?" by one of his presenting organizations. When he asked what they meant, they said "Are you ready for all of the attention you will get around this, and will you be able to use that to continue to build your career?"

So I was very conscious of that going into this project, particularly as the attention continued to grow. And I have to ask myself? Am I ready? I thought I was. I have concepts for the next project, I am definitely making use of the fantastic network of people that I have met over the course of the project. But how, realistically does one turn that attention into funding or other types of support for the next project? I'm not sure that I know. So now what?

Well, what I am doing now is working on the next thing... hopefully I can take it a little slower and ensure more up front funding and get all of the ducks in a row earlier in the process. So here is the roster of projects (all with *working* titles and there fore subject to change).

Green Seeds
Background: This project builds off the history of gardening in NYC as well as the connections to food which are long established in the Lower East Side and Chinatown. It also examines the heat island effect, and the mitigation which even a small portion of something like a green roof can play on the temperature of the city. Finally it utilizes social networking to generate siting the project.
Green roof: I have been gathering information on green roofing and have found a modular and lightweight system which can be used without a lot of retrofitting or heavy construction etc. My idea is to take one or two of the modular pillows and place them on roofs. They then act as a *seed* of a green roof. They might (I'm working on this) housed in a sculptural element (the seed pod?) that could also contain instruments for measuring temperature (which could be sent back to an online map), a solar panel to power the instrumentation, provide some weight and protection for the green roof and perhaps provide some visual cues about the green roof.

Social networking: The social networking is accomplished as follows. 1. I find the first person on whose roof I place the first green seed pod. I then get the necessary approval from the landlord, and ask the resident to meet or find one or two people in a neighboring building that are also interested in having the project installed. Again I go through the necessary approvals and install the second green seed pod, asking those residents to again find the next set of interested participants. I would also like to install them in some more public spaces like schools and public rooftop areas. From these locations people could inquire and request green seed pods.

How to make it public: Here's one of the tricky parts. How to make the project *more* public. Since the roofs might be a majority privately owned, access isn't really a possibility. The mapping and temperature taking will be publicly accessible, but how else can I do it? Do I literally run string from one green seed pod to the next, showing the network as it grows? (But what does that really have to do with green roofs?) Do I create little plaques (like historical markers) that can be affixed to the front of the buildings? Do I recreate George Bliss' Purple Footprints (once used to lead to Adam Purple's community garden, and then later to protest the Bowery Bar) - but that's illegal...

Okay, I was supposed to write them all up, but now I am going to be late for work, so I will add the rest (Coffee Cup Reduction Project, Real Cost Cafe and What a Waste - Disposable Culture) later...

Friday, August 03, 2007

When confronted with the extraordinary

Why does it seem, that when confronted with the extraordinary, we choose to run and hide?
I heard a fantastical story on the BBC World News radio programme this morning. Someone is apparently dropping envelopes and packages of large amounts of money around Tokyo, Kobe and Kyoto - in bathrooms, public spaces, post boxes and from the sky. Included with the money is a note that asks the recipient to do "something good" with the money.
Instead, people are getting scared and turning the money in to the police. At first I thought this was a really fabulous social artwork (although a very expensive one). Others interviewed for the program suggested they thought it was maybe a gimmick for a new tv game show (which would be too bad). You can read the story here.
So why is it when confronted with an opportunity to take a great deal of money to 'do something good' people instead run scared and give it to the police? And what would happen in New York City? What would you do?
I am pretty sure I would in fact do something good with the money. But it would be also frivolous and fun. It wouldn't be donating to some organization or cause. Maybe I would buy lots of candy for a group of kids. Maybe I would just get a huge number of balloons and tie notes that say nice things and release them in the city. Or hire a band to march around Wall Street... I don't know but I think it would focus on bringing smiles to the faces of people.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

On the evolution of ideas

I am sitting in Corlear's Hook Park at Cherry Street and FDR Drive, waiting for the sun to go set. I did my first installation of the illuminated beacons for High Water Line, and am waiting to get some pictures of them after dusk. It seems as good a time as any to delve into the topic of the evolution of ideas. A number of people have asked how I went from the studio work investigating the relationship between built and natural environment to a community outreach project dealing with the specific issue of climate change.

When I look at the High Water Line project as a single, whole entity (the entire line, the beacons, the nature of the project), I see a seamless connection between it and my drawings, intervention installations, narrative works and my tendency towards obsessive. For some the connection isn't so obvious. So my friend Michele and I broke it down into a specific narrative the other day (a lot of which you could get from reading this blog in a linear manner).

My work has gone through a number of phases (as would anyone's of my tenure). The work previously being shown and developed was that which investigated the intersection between body and space. Or, to put it another way, humans and their environment (see the seed was already there). Last January, I wrote a blog entry about viewing a photo essay in Sierra Magazine about the shrinking glaciers. I was awed by the power of the visual message and I decided to make a conscious change in the direction of my work. About the same time, we had decided to move. As anyone familiar with the NYC real estate market knows, this can be an all-consuming task. So my studio practice was negatively affected. From that time until well after the move (my tiny studio at the new place was filled with boxes), my artistic practice was primarily that of drawing ideas in my sketchbook. These works were all explorations of specific environmental issues (deforestation, urban decay, migration, waste, genetics).

Alongside this, I was trying to come up with ways to get my work out and seen by more people (this didn't have to be galleries). I realized the easiest and best way to do this was to put it out on the street and in the parks right out in front of them. Would be pretty hard to avoid that.
I played with a few ideas and pretty quickly landed on the idea of marking the sea level rise sculpturally. Hence the genesis of High Water Line (nee Sea Change).

So the original idea was to create sculptural elements that were fairly elaborate and could be installed permanently around the city. For reasons of funding, fabrication, maintenance, liability and science (that this wasn't a concrete line), the idea quickly morphed into simple illuminated beacons installed in parks around the city, connected by a chalk line. (Sound familiar?)
It was in the process of writing about the project, for grant applications, that I began to better understand the project and all of the various aspects of it - performance, community, witness, etc.

Which leaves me here, waiting for the sunset, meditating on the project, and the relationship between humans and their environment.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

By the numbers...

I have been thinking about noting the numbers involved in the High Water Line project, and after shifting 3,000 pounds of chalk - yep, you heard that right, 3,000 - now is as good a time as any!

I have had sort of a critical mass of community board meetings and parks meetings happening as the project and the summer holidays (for the community boards) rapidly approaches. So here are some of the numbers so far:

3,000 pounds of chalk moved from the truck into storage
208 ounces of pigment
444 paths drawn on my community walk map
13 community boards
8 community board meetings (so far)
9 parks department representatives
4 DOT representatives
2 NASA scientists
8 grant applications (so far)
50 miles of biking (approximately) the line
10 miles of walking the line
2,000 action packets
2 websites (new one coming soon!)
1 press mention (so far)

And we won't even go into budget and expenses yet...

It seems that a lot of what public art making requires is just plain old persistence. I have learned on this project what it really means to sell your idea and how not to take no for an answer. Don't get me wrong, there have been several times along the way where I have just thought - ugh! why am I even doing this? Then I pick myself up, dust myself off and plow on ahead. I do know that it is going to continue to be a hard process, but it is something that I am really passionate about, and when I do find people who are really excited about the project (the audience at Community Boards) or just plain super helpful - many of the people in city agencies - it can be a great boon to the spirit and buoy me back up again.

Speaking of people excited about the project, I am looking for volunteers to work on the project - so if you love talking to people about climate issues, and want to go for long interesting and meandering walks around NYC - contact me!

There are a couple of more hurdles to clear - the biggest of which is finding space to mix the chalk and pigment. If anyone has some outdoor space, studio space or storage space that they aren't using, don't care if it gets dusty and has access to power - definitely let me know! Special bonus if it has a loading dock. That would certainly be easier than shifting 3,000 pounds of chalk each month.

Top photo of natural pigments, courtesy of The Real Milk Paint Company.

Friday, April 27, 2007

In all the steel there was nature...

And in the nature there was steel?

A workmate of mine asked yesterday if I had seen the Roxy Paine trees in "shake shack park" (Madison Square Park) yesterday - I did remember that I had seen a report on the installation of his boulders, but had forgotten about the trees.

I stopped by yesterday on my way up to Hangawi -

As I came upon the park I could begin to glimpse the sinuous branches of stainless steel - visible in amongst the still bare branches of the towering trees in the park. The juxtaposition of the buildings, real trees and stainless steel branches was a stunning and sexy interplay of line and light. I am anxious to return to see the trees in different light and even at night. The best sculpture is the centerpiece of two wind blown trees leaning into each other - their sleek branches intertwining with one another.

The two other pieces - one a large stainless steel boulder and the other a more chunky tree sited in a dirt area of the park are less successful. I think this is a result of the pieces being less graceful. The centerpiece is a composition of movement and agility - which makes sense among the varied lines of the natural trees - and it is surprising given the sleek metal of which they are made.

Roxy has always fascinated me with his use of technology and high-tech materials to recreate and examine nature and natural processes. It strikes me as an interesting experiment in man's desire to control everything around him. I have a friend who has examined the role of artworks like Roxy's in contemporary society, I will have to get some commentary from her on this work.

The exhibition opens officially on May 15, but it is all up now, so you could catch the trees and the Bill Fontana sound piece at the same time (Fontana's piece is up until May 1).

Many thanks to Madison Square Park and the NYC Parks Dept for bringing this fantastic work to Shake Shack Park!

Monday, April 23, 2007

You are cordially invited...

My hope at the beginning of the HighWaterLine project was to take you, my blog reader friends, along for the ride (at least partially). It has turned out that a lot of the work is about emailing, meetings and writing and re-writing proposals and promotions. It turns out that all that stuff isn't so interesting to blog about.

One thing I would like to do though, is to offer the knowledge that I have gained to others out there interested in doing public art projects. Here's where you come in...

First, if you have questions about the process, post away. I am happy to answer any questions people might have about the process - grantwriting, fiscal sponsorship, grant reporting, networking, working with partners, working with city agencies, community boards, fabrication, public outreach, press and marketing, etc. I will provide in-depth answers in whatever you are interested in learning more about.

Second, if you are interested in the process and want to witness some *live action* I have a LOT of community board meetings coming up, let me know if you are interested in learning more about the process, you can join me at one of the meetings. Just go to the highwaterline.org site and contact me.

Finally, if you really really want to get out there and see what it is all about, volunteer! I am looking for artists and environmentally minded folks to walk the line with me. There are a couple of ways to help, so go check out the timeline, and then contact me to let me know when you would like to help out!

(Top image - the glamour of making public art...)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Finding local sources

Since g-pup and I went on the low carbon diet it has been a lot of work finding foodstuff and recipes to support all the winter veg. So, in light of that, I have put together a bulletin board for people to share information on local resources. Check it out here: http://www.highwaterline.org/localsource/index.php and participate! Let me know if you have ideas for other topic areas.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Sea of People

It's this weekend folks! This Saturday join in on the action right here in NYC. As part of Step It Up, a worldwide call to cut carbon emissions by 80%, a group of good people have organized Sea of People. We will meet in Battery Park for a rally at noon and then walk along two lines on the east and west sides of Manhattan that mark the 10-foot above sea level line.

Check out the promo video here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=p0DfSCfdfBA

See you there?

Monday, April 02, 2007

the more you know the less you know

I am starting to feel a little like Neo when he took the pill. Now that I know all that I know it is really hard to look the other way or to forget it all. This applies to both the environmental issues that I am dealing with as well as the process of producing public art. (Is that allegory a little dated?)

I have been well pleased with the general reception regarding High Water Line within the ranks of the community boards and the city agencies with whom I have met. Today I met with the Brooklyn DoT commissioner. He was entirely open to providing the necessary support that I was seeking - mainly an okay from him regarding chalk marking on the street (since there is a city ordinance regarding it - but that speaks specifically to defacement). It is funny though the things one doesn't think about that the people closer to it do. He brought up the fact that since the line is blue, it would make people think we are doing construction on the street and they might call 311, so I should let them know about the project. Also about writing the url in the line - that may be considered advertisement (which AAA will be pleased to know is treated the same as grafitti), and therefore could be the problematic part of the project. So I am happy to work with them to figure out the best way to represent the project...

I have lots of interesting meetings coming up this week, including another meeting with my designers, a meeting with the NYC Parks department - I am excited about that one - and finally rounding the week out with a meeting with a curator at Dumbo Arts Center to talk about coinciding the project with their Arts Under the Bridge Festival. It could be a wonderfully defining week!

There's been a lot of buzz about the Step It Up projects, including the Sea of People project. Make sure you take the time to dress in blue and come walk the line - it will be a great event (I helped them map the line!) Totally a great group of people, and the big rallies are just as important as my one-on-one conversations.

Monday, March 26, 2007

It's a big small world

It has been interesting to work on a project within the specific realm of arts and environmental issues. Is it a subculture or a genre? There are both a lot of people working on these issues and at the same time relatively few.
As I talk to more people about High Water Line, I find more crossover and you start to hear the same names over and over again. I was meeting with a friend at Eyebeam the day after my friends at Solar One were there, then my partners at Canary Project were meeting with Solar One the same afternoon that I was attending the Sea of People fundraiser. An advisor of mine had suggested that I look up Jane Marsching just a couple of days after another friend had put us in touch. Jennifer Monson of iLand and I keep crossing paths, and my designers at Pratt Design Corps are friends with CP's assistant... The list goes on.I had heard the name Alexis Rockman mentioned by the Precipice Alliance, and then again by Cynthia Rosenzweig. Most recently a friend of mine brought up his name after having met with LMCC about her own independent projects. Finally I took a few minutes (in between drawing maps and writing grant applications), to look more in depth at his work. A google image search brings up a huge list of fantastical images. I found some good articles on his work in the NYTimes, Wired and Orion Magazine. He paints this rich and luscious paintings of romanticized demise of the earth from the efforts of man (genetic alteration, global warming, etc). These paintings are layered with imagery of great and small creatures (rarely are humans in the picture - although on occasion). I love the bright colors and the detail and lighting which are imbued in the work. It is an interestingly fantastical image of human degradation of the earth and what comes after. I can't help thinking about how fun it would be to work with him on a 2-d 3-d version of Courses of Empire (the Acadia to Utopia series) that I have wanted to do for a long time. Don't be surprised if in between the next few public projects that I want to do, I squeeze in some time to do a sculptural interpretation of one of his works.
Top image: Dancer in iLand performance
Middle image: Jane Marxhing's Arctic Listening Post
Last three images: Alexis Rockman

Friday, March 23, 2007

Oh and--

If you want to contribute to the High Water Line project (money that is!) you can do so here!

From where I am sitting

A lot going on out in the world including: Ouch! and some good self promotion - this op/ed comes on the heels of me reading more about Brooks' report on "Who Really Cares." And addresses something I have been thinking about ever since seeing the photos of the retreating glaciers. It's something I have been guilty of (am working towards remedying that now) and that I see my friends all around me doing. We believe strongly enough in something to dedicate time and money (despite Brooks' report most people I know give quite generously to charities) and even heated discussions and an occassional rally or march. BUT, how many people are really willing to change their lifestyle, or make sacrifices, or put forth a great effort towards that thing about which they are so passionate?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Making the change -- we only *think* it's hard

Ever since writing this post, I've been thinking about my own efforts to reduce my impact on the world. As g-pup says, "don't we already have a lower impact than most people?" The answer is yes, we certainly do (we buy locally and seasonally, shop at goodwill for things we need - if we shop at all, we use CFL's, we compost, bring our own canvas bags to the store and recycle, turn off lights, don't run water, won't buy drinks in disposable containers), but I responded, "that doesn't mean we shouldn't do more." So, inspired by the No Impact Man and the book Gone Tomorrow, The Hidden Life of Garbage, we are working to a greater reduction in impact. We are cutting way down on the t.v. that we watch (we don't watch a whole lot already since we hate regular t.v. but we are reducing our watching by about 75%), reducing (trying to get to 0) the packaged goods that we purchase (I will be doing more and more farmer's market shopping since that drastically reduces the packaging and helps with the local buying), and deciding not to buy anything this year - and if we *need* to then we will do some environmental volunteer work to offset that purchase.

I am most looking forward to the efforts towards different types of entertainment, I think we might regain some of the time we seem to be so short on. G-pup is looking forward to doing more homebrewing for his beer consumption. We will still have to rely on transit for getting around (we live in Brooklyn, I work in Manhattan and he works in Jersey), but now that spring is on its way, we will be back on our bikes for most of our shopping and weekend commute needs.

It seems like a lot to take on with the ongoing work on the project, but in a way it all kind of makes sense to do it now...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I had fully intended to really track the entire process of this project in this blog back when I started. It's possible (very likely in fact) that I might have been a little naive at that point about how much work this would actually take. Now that I am well into the thick of it I hardly have time to think about it, much less blog.

So why this rare posting? I am on a train ride back from a community board meeting in Coney Island, it's after 9 so it's a long local ride. On the way to the meeting I was thinking about the project in the context of fear. Because let's be frank here, I have never done anything even near this scope and scale - this is my first public work, my first funded work (other than stipends for gallery shows, which is nowhere near the scale). Why would I not be a little afraid of taking on this project? Honestly, I was, and at times I still am. Sure I have fear, but the cool thing is by pushing through the fear, that's where one can achieve great things. And thinking about that while riding the B train through a vast array of neighborhoods (where it is elevated) and thinking about walking around this city that I love, talking to so many different people about something that I care deeply about? Well that is really really freaking cool.

So I have been contacting Community Boards and attending meetings to present the project and the response has been resoundingly supportive. Now if i could just get those pesky permits in place...

Monday, March 12, 2007


Sometimes this project seems pretty big and overwhelming. I keep myself inspired by these two women, Majora Carter and Wangari Maathai. This morning I watched Marjora's TED speech online. I use a quote of Wangari's on my emails.
Both of these women are amazing in their strength and vision. They fully understand the interconnectedness of environmental issues and social justice.
Wangari's tree planting program associated planting trees to empower women and local communites. Majora's has fought against NYC planning policies that unjustly and unevenly placed the most detrimental industries in the South Bronx. Her projects have built community and opportunity while reinvigorating the waterfront and creating new green structures throughout the neighborhood.

For more information:
Sustainable South Bronx
Green Belt Movement

I certainly dedicate this project to these two amazing visionaries!