The long-term effect would likely be to drown the world’s coastlines, including many of its great cities. New York City is nearly 400 years old; in the worst-case scenario conjured by the research, its chances of surviving another 400 years in anything like its present form would appear to be remote. Miami, New Orleans, London, Venice, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Sydney, Australia, are all just as vulnerable as New York, or more so.
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all images, Herring Cove Beach parking lot, Cape Cod National Seashore, July 2016
As described in a recent New York Time article, when Marie Kondo (aka KonMari) arrives at a house or apartment where she will do her work, she first sits down in the middle of the room and greets the space. She then begins the process of assisting those who inhabit the space, to lead a “clutter-free” life. She does this work of “tidying” in the name of bringing more joy to those who live there, and perhaps to even bring more joy to the space itself.
We like to imagine that when Kondo is sitting in these homes during her initial greeting, she might be sensing something akin to what Richard McGuire illustrates in his brilliant graphic novel, Here — namely, the lively, vivid personal and material histories that pulse through, under and around a house or apartment and also crisscross the location’s geographic and geological histories. Rather than an act of lunacy, the pause to “say hello” to a space could allow an individual to sense the forces and histories of that place on its own terms. Each home becomes a case study in multiple, material temporalities of humans and non-humans that extend into its past and future, including the things that inhabitants have acquired and are living with.
Kondo’s concept of “joy” is not a superficial state of being that can be purchased. It’s a state that has been dampered by the clutter in many of the homes she helps to tidy. Taffy Brodesser-Akner, the author of a recent piece on Marie Kondo in the Times Magazine, writes that Kondo had “realized that the work she was doing as a tidying consultant was far more psychological than it was practical. Tidying wasn’t just a function of your physical space; it was a function of your soul.” That’s why Kondo can’t do the real work of de-cluttering for her clients. That work required her clients to hold each item they have acquired and ask themselves: “Does this spark joy?” If not, it doesn’t belong in their homes or in their lives.
Brodesser-Akner goes on to explain what comes next: Kondo
“… says that to fold a shirt the way everyone folds a shirt (a floppy rectangle) instead of the way she thinks you should (a tight mass of dignified envelope-shaped fabric so tensile that it could stand upright) is to deprive that shirt of the dignity it requires to continue its work, i.e. hanging off your shoulders until bedtime. She would like your socks to rest. She would like your coins to be treated with respect. She thinks your tights are choking when you tie them off in the middle. She would like you to thank your clothes for how hard they work and ensure that they get adequate relaxation between wearings. Before you throw them out — and hoo boy will you be throwing them out — she wants you to thank them for their service. She wants you to thank that blue dress you never wore, tell it how grateful you are that it taught you how blue wasn’t really your color and that you can’t really pull off an empire waist. She wants you to override the instinct to keep a certain thing because an HGTV show or a home-design magazine or a Pinterest page said it would brighten up your room or make your life better.”
These powerfully charged words: “dignity,” “respect,” “rest,” “thank,” “service” — are all remarkably addressed to seemingly mundane things such as socks, coins, shirts and magazines. What does KonMarie know that most of us don’t?
The same day (July 6th, 2016) that the piece on Kondo appeared, two other articles in the Times described communities in Virginia and Massachusetts that were losing landmass from the effects of climate change. When read alongside the Kondo profile, these stories resonated differently than the usual “climate change horror stories.”
The first, “Should the United States Save Tangier Island from Oblivion?” (subtitled: “It’s the kind of choice that climate change will be forcing over and over”) detailed challenges being faced by those living on Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay. It’s one of hundreds of islands off the coast of Virginia that have been washing away due to rising seas. The second article, “At a Cape Cod Landmark, a Strategic Retreat from the Ocean,” explained how the Cape Cod National Seashore is implementing a “strategic retreat” from one of the Seashore’s most popular beaches, Herring Cove, due to extreme beach erosion. We happened to be in Provincetown that week, and a comment by Chris Miller, director of the Provincetown’s department of natural resources, rang especially true for us: “Change is very difficult, especially when it’s your favorite place in the world.”
The reality of climate change resonates differently when the national new talks about your home being lost “forever” (in terms of human scales of time). We couldn’t help wondering if a KonMari-inspired method of addressing climate change might be useful far beyond its intended goal of decluttering homes.
The same dignity, respect and gratitude can be addressed to the landmass being “lost” to erosion in Provincetown — along with the social, biological and material histories that are “being lost” with this land. Despite this wildly different context, KonMarie’s approach provides an inspiring means to access what is materially changing around us — and to do so in ways that don’t always place humans at the center of concerns.
According to the Times, in the United States, “roughly five million people and 2.6 million homes are [currently] situated less than four feet above high tide.
“There will be dozens of Miamis and thousands of Tangiers. ‘The Outer Banks, the Delmarva Peninsula, Long Island, the Jersey Shore — they’re in the same boat… It’s going to just take a little longer for them to get to where Tangier is now.’ An excruciating question is how we will decide which coastal communities to rescue and which to relinquish to the sea. But a number of other difficulties attend those decisions. How do we re-engineer the land, roads and neighborhoods of the places deemed worthy of salvation? How do we relocate residents whose homes can’t (or won’t) be saved? Also, there’s the money problem.”
The next few decades will usher in long and slow geologic processes that have very uncertain outcomes. As Paul Bierman, a geologist from Vermont explains, the land off the coast of Virginia “is likely to be sinking for many thousands of years.”
The Times article on Tangier suggests that the area might be completely gone in 50 years. Extending the life of Tangier even this long would require a lot of engineering, including breakwaters, pumps, vegetation. It would also necessitate overcoming “immense economic and political obstacles” in the process that offer an “early glimpse of a problem so enormously complex, so ‘wicked’… it seems to defy resolution. Imagine this scaling up for Miami Beach (expected to be largely uninhabitable by 2050) or many other large cities along global coastlines.”
An act of managed retreat, like that now underway on the Cape Cod National Seashore, embraces the idea that we ultimately can’t hold back the water forever. It’s a “wrenching decision.” But arguably, it’s more sane than launching into decades of stalling efforts that all too quickly arrive at the same outcome.
“Given the forecast of future sea level rise over the next century and beyond, every problem that we have along the coast right now will only increase.” – Rob Thieler USGS, Woods Hole
After spending three weeks in May on Captiva Island, FL for a residency entitled “Rising Waters,” we wrote the following:
“The reality of rising sea levels globally and locally necessitates migrations of many sorts, including migrations of ideas, emotions, sense of place, self and other. We sense that psychological and philosophical migrations of habitual ways of thinking and feeling are as vital to realizing the theme of the residency, “graceful migration,” as are infrastructural, scientific and preparatory/adaptive actions.”
As artists/humans, we are committed to imagining and inventing how we might meet the reality of a changing planet in our daily lives. We know we have a long way to go in being able to philosophically and psychology meet the scale of the changes actually underway.
Near Tangier Island, there is an island named Poplar. Poplar shrunk from 1,200 acres to 5 acres between 1920 and 1990. When islanders cut down the island’s trees for lumber, they facilitated rampant, human manufactured erosion.
A woman whose family has lived on Tangier Island for generations, takes her boat to an area called the Uppards nearly everyday to walk the beach. There, she steps
“gingerly over fallen headstones while searching for bottles and buttons or taking a moment to appreciate the blooms of a dying rosebush planted by someone (an ancestor?) more than a century ago… She had found toy marbles and old coins and coffin handles; she had also discovered arrowheads and a Native American ax head of smoothed stone that must have preceded the settlement of Canaan by many centuries. But every week, she said, there was a bit less land and brush. And every visit was an effort to gather the final, sodden artifacts of a place that would vanish, almost completely, within a few years.”
It’s a difficult question, but is it possible to feel the “joy” that Kondo’s process asks us conjure in the context of so much loss? From within the reality of climate change? Might a KonMari-inspired “method,” when applied to climate change, allow us to winnow through the chaos and distractions and access how and why we value the specific things that we are keeping for now and also those that we are in the mist of losing or letting go? Could this process give us a means for thanking these things, and places “for their service” on our behalf? It’s psychological soul work, but perhaps this time and labor intensive process could generate new senses of and capacities for joy.
As Brodesser-Akner writes of Kondo’s process: “We are told we don’t have time to have this kind of exchange. We should be doing something more productive.”
Elizabeth Royte writes in follow-up to the Kondo piece, “Be Mindful of What you Consume Instead,” that rather than asking clients to “consider their objects’ spirit”, it’s “better for planetary health, I think, to contemplate the tangible resources that went into making these goods – wood, metals, minerals, oil, plants, animals, water, energy and human labor.”
This is great advice. And to us, the “spirit” of an object most certainly includes the literal materials and processes that compose them — wood, metal, animals, labor. Accessing this “spirit” is where the joy comes in. As Royte goes on to explain: “Knowing where our goods come from and understanding where they ultimately go — there is no ‘away’ — may help curb our acquisitive habits… [and] instead of asking if a household object brings joy, ask yourself — the next time you’re tempted to buy something new — how long it’s likely to please you, how long it will last, whether it can be repaired and what kind of trash it will ultimately make.”
Given that the Anthropocene is changing now so many things we consider fundamental to our lives, perhaps a KonMarie-like method can help us rethink what we consider to be “useful,” “needed,” or “productive.” It might help us rethink what things and processes are really generating “joy” within, between, and around us before they’re no longer there. And, perhaps a KonMarie-like method can allow joy to become part how we connect with and consider thing and processes both within our lives and beyond them.
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cyanotype of .03 inch thick line, the average amount that waters of Captiva Island, FL are rising every ten days, from Conveyance, smudge studio 2016
We just returned from three weeks on Captiva Island, Florida as part of the Rising Waters II Confab hosted by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Despite the standard dictionary definition of confab (to talk together casually, and to fill in gaps in one’s memory with fabrications that one believes to be facts), our time on Captiva was not only filled with playful and casual conversation, it was also remarkably challenging and immersive.
Soon after we arrived, we learned that at such a (relatively) southern latitude, the speed at which we are riding the Earth’s eastward spin is 300 mph faster than when we’re in New York. To our eyes, sunrises and sunsets on Captiva proceeded at a palpably faster pace than we’re used to seeing off the Northeast coast.
After a few days, the sea seemed to be rising faster around us too. We did a simple math equation based on recent climate change models, to visualize scientists’ conclusions that the waters around Captiva are rising about .003 inches each day.
We drew a pencil line that is.03 inches thick to represent a ten-day rise.
The highest elevation on Captiva Island is approximately eleven feet. The average elevation on Rauschenberg Foundation property where we were staying is 3.1 feet. The property faces the risk of 285 tidally-induced flood days by 2045.*
We spent several days and evenings working inside and on the deck of the Fish House. We experienced the sensations of remoteness that it affords. We watched pelicans glide a feather’s height above the water. We listened to the ceiling fan and watched waves. We paged through collections Ding Darling’s political cartoons here, where the renowned and revered artist, Pulitzer prize winner, and conservationist drew many of them. We were gratified by the generous and creative human spirit of Robert Rauschenberg, who acquired the Fish House and lovingly preserved it for artists to use as inspiration.
The reality of rising sea levels globally and locally necessitates migrations of many sorts, including migrations of ideas, emotions, sense of place, self and other. We sense that psychological and philosophical migrations of habitual ways of thinking and feeling are as vital to realizing the theme of the residency, “graceful migration,” as are infrastructural, scientific and preparatory/adaptive actions.
Graceful migration — how to live with the realities of massive change without being overtaken by paralyzing fear, depression, guilt.
Our three weeks on Captiva led us to invent a project we decided to call Conveyance. Via an aperture in a shoebox, we created cyanotype images of 15 sites and structures on the Rauschenberg Foundation property.
The medial, processual nature of the cyanotype involved us in the material changing that IS these structures. We waited for the light. We noted the humidity, time of day. We collaborated with the sun to convey form and elements to paper via a shoebox aperture. We waited more. We immersed paper in cold water.
Reflections of structures came into view, incomplete images signaling from within a groundless sea of blue. The stuff that makes them and the sites that hold them will go on transforming into very deep futures. The subtle creative spirits and histories that dwell within these buildings also are embarking on a great migration, propelled by planetary phase shifts.
We offer this series of fifteen cyanotypes as a means of conveyance, escort, accompaniment.
the Fish House, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Captiva Island, FL, smudge studio
Fish House, from Conveyance, smudge studio 2016
Waldo Cottage, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Captiva Island, FL, smudge studio
project installation at Rising Waters II Open Studio, Captiva Island, FL May 24, 002016
* “Coastal Risk Rapid Assessment”, Coastal Risk Consulting, May 2016
** Sincere thanks to our hosts and collaborators both at the Confab and at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.
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The combination of plastic and campfires has formed a wholly new sedimentary rock recently dubbed “plastiglomerate” by the geologist-artist collaborative field study team of Patricia L. Corcoran, Dept. of Earth Sciences, University of Western Ontario; Charles J. Moore, Algalita Marine Research Institute, Long Beach, California; Kelly Jazvac, Dept. of Visual Arts, University of Western Ontario.
The new stone type, identified and collected from Kamilo Beach by the team on the southern tip of the Island of Hawaii, is made up of intermingled melted plastic from beach campfires, beach sediment, basaltic lava fragments, and organic debris.
In their published report, “An Anthropogenic Marker Horizon in the Future Rock Record,” the team explained that when plastic melts in campfires, natural sediments attach to the plastic. This makes the plastiglomerate heavy, and keeps it in place despite movements of wind and water. This increases the chance that the new rocks will be buried and preserved in the geologic record. And that means there is great potential that plastiglomerates will be part of the geologic record of the earth and act as a “horizon marker” of human pollution, “signaling the occurrence of the informal Anthropocene epoch.”
smudge/FOP decided to create a scientific illustration of this newly formed, discovered and named geologic material. Kelly Jazvac loaned us one of the plastiglomerate specimens she gathered from Kamilo Beach. This beach has become known as Hawaii’s “plastic beach” because it borders the Pacific Ocean current called the North Pacific gyre, which is now infamous for being the site of an enormous floating island of plastic trash from around the world. “A 2014 study estimated that 8 million metric tons of plastic trash enter the sea from land every year—the equivalent of five plastic bags filled with trash for every foot of coastline around the world.”
Plastic from the “pacific garbage patch” washes up on Kamilo Beach because of how the currents there push up onto this area of the island. There, the plastic is so prolific in the sand, it’s almost impossible to have a beach campfire without melting plastic and rock/debris together to form plastiglomerates. The research team found their specimens as they explored campfire pits.
We were curious about what new realizations, understandings, and aesthetic experiences of new material realities of life in the Anthropocene we might offer audiences by using scientific illustration to document and interpret plastiglomerates. Given our habitual ways of narrating ecological crises and disasters, to understand the significance of plastiglomerates to human and nonhuman lives and habitats often means being horrified, appalled, angered, frightened.
We wanted to experiment in offering a scientific illustration of the specimen that calls up something other than “objective observation” of “just the facts” of this new material — AND that also avoids emotions and conventions of “disaster porn” images related to climate change.
Might it be possible to create a scientific illustration that invites a viewer to “be with” this new, vibrant, consequential “thing” of the Anthropocene? To pause for a moment and take in its reality without denial or distraction? To be moved by the illustration in a way that leads audiences to keep the force of this new human-made thing in mind as they go about acting, making choices, and living in the Anthropocene?
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“In principle, coastal defenses could be built to protect the densest cities, but experts believe it will be impossible to do that along all 95,000 miles of the American coastline, meaning that immense areas will most likely have to be abandoned to the rising sea.”
Houston Ship Channel, smudge studio 2016
These words easily could be mistaken for a passage from J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World. But they appeared in a major article in the New York Times on March 30th, which details the (surprisingly) rapid breakup of the West Antarctic ice sheet:
With ice melting in other regions, too, the total rise of the sea could reach five or six feet by 2100, the researchers found. That is roughly twice the increase reported as a plausible worst-case scenario by a United Nations panel just three years ago, and so high it would likely provoke a profound crisis within the lifetimes of children being born today.
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Next week, a feral day is coming to a calendar near you.
Welcome to “intercalary day,” also known as a leap day. It arrives this Monday, February 29th. We are feeling very lucky that the calendars are aligning, so to speak, as this special day happens to occur during our Living Deep Time Year 000001 project.
Given our ongoing research on all kinds of time, we’ve been giving extra attention to anything that helps frame and illustrate the creeping misalignment of standardized human time. Our current 2000 year old calendar was instituted by Julius Caesar and refined by papal proclamation (by Pope Gregory XIII) in 1582 to include leap years. This innovation of the Gregorian calendar reflects one human attempt to keep our lives running steadily and “on time.” American colonies didn’t adopt the calendar until 1752.
It actually takes approximately 365.242189 days (or 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 45 seconds) for Earth complete one orbit around the Sun. That’s a number that doesn’t divide nicely into the 24 hour intervals that some humans have assigned to what we call a day. If we didn’t add a leap day every four years, our calendar year would “lose” 6 hours annually. After 100 years, we’d be “off” by around 24 days. Ironically, even with the complex system of leap years, the Gregorian calendar requires future humans to drop a day in about 3,000 years.
What we find most inspiring about February 29th, and leap days in general, is that they are “inserted” into the otherwise standard Gregorian calendar in an effort to materially re-connect our daily lives to their literal, spatial and temporal connections to the sun — and all the useful meanings that our planet’s location in space affords for human life and culture (seasons, months, myths, rituals, metaphors, etc.).
We invite you to take some leaps on Monday. Instead of pondering the leaky nature of calculated time, re-sync with the driver of our evolutionary temporal rhythms — the sun. You’ll realize that February 29 isn’t really a “bonus day.” There’s really no more time than usual in existence this month (even though if you’re working on Monday, you’ll be getting an extra day of pay this year). Consider astrophysicist Adam Frank’s point that “There are simply the Nows, nothing more, nothing less.” And take a moment to leap into the comments of zen master Dōgen (made 800 years earlier):
“Real existence is only this exact moment, all moments of existence-time are the whole of time, and all existent things and all existent phenomena are time. The whole of existence, the whole universe, exists in individual moments of time. Let us pause to reflect whether or not any of the whole of existence or any of the whole of the universe has leaked away from the present moment of time.” (from Chapter 11 of Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō, “Uji”).
artist Yves Klein leaps into the void, Le Saut dans le vide (Leap into the Void);
Photomontage by Shunk Kender of a performance by Klein at Rue Gentil-Bernard, Fontenay-aux-Roses, October 1960
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digital copy of postcard dispatch #1, from Living Deep Time Year 000001
The first round of postcard dispatches for the Living Deep Time Year 000001 project are in the mail and should be reach their destinations soon, just in time for the start of the Lunar New Year on February 8th. This month’s postcard is the first of four that we will send out this year. And as promised, we are also sharing digital versions of these postcards to all, here on FOP.
The postcard dispatches are original works of mail art that share a practice that anyone can try out as possible ways to live, experience, and get to know new and wildly deep aspects of time. Each practice will be something that we have discovered during our year-long research process for the Living Deept Time Year 000001 Project.
As our last post explained, we’ve been thinking a lot about the multiplicities of time and have been attempting to pay attention to temporalities beyond those that modern clocks and Gregorian calendars track and calculate. This takes practice.
back of postcard dispatch #1, from Living Deep Time Year 000001
Over the past month, we discovered that we have a tendency to “come back onto” linear, standardized time each time we look at the clock on our phones. So, for this first postcard dispatch wecreated an artwork for each of our backers (and a digital copy for all FOP readers. It can be used as a home screen on smart phones. The image on the postcard visually suggests the multiplies of “nonhuman” timescales, temporalities, and timescapes that are entangled with the one represented on our clocks. It’s a poetic reminder that the time we’re calling here “human standard time” isn’t the only kind of time. For us, having this image appear each time we want to know the time has actually helped us practice new kinds of time. We hope it does for you as well.
postcard dispatch #1 as iPhone lock screen, from Living Deep Time Year 000001
The following two digital images are available as open source downloads. Feel free to share and distribute them widely. If you use one as your home screen image, let us know if and how it helps you tune into new and other tempos and realities of time.
all images FOP 2016