Practices for Living Time: Amulets for the Anthropocene
10.14.2016, 12:48 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Last weekend we had the pleasure of facilitating a workshop in San Francisco entitled Amulets for the Anthropocene: Practices for Living in and as Change, thanks to an invitation from Professor Stephen Zavestoski at University of San Francisco.  His ambitious, interdisciplinary Davies Seminar entitled Making Sense of the Anthropocene invites students to work at the “intersection of art, activism and academics to find the places where new stories are emerging about who we are, how we might go about living the Anthropocene, and what this means for our future.” The course features a series of guest presenters.

For our “presentation,” we offered an interactive workshop that was staged outdoors in Golden Gate Park.  It began with a demonstration tea ceremony at Park’s Japanese Tea Garden, the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States. The garden layout is inspired by Shinto beliefs (spirits manifested in nature) and Buddhist landscape design. Both are the result of cultural practices that hinge on “slow,” close observation and aesthetic contemplation.

garden_gateentrance gate to the Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

We designed the workshop out of a sense that there is an urgent need for practices that invite humans to pay close attention to the changes that are the Anthropocene, hold the thought of the reality of this new epoch, and build psychological and emotional capacities to meet and respond creatively to the unstable conditions we will continuously encounter in these new times.

For us, close observation assists in fostering a deeper awareness of what we face as a species and capacities to invent new ways to live the Anthropocene in our daily lives. The act of cultivating psychological, physical and spiritual capacities for co-existing with big and fast change in the Anthropocene are as vital as any infrastructural, scientific, and preparatory/adaptive actions. They generate new sensations and meanings—potentials that open the future to new actions and arrangements—even as the future seems to be closing down.

We see the Japanese garden and tea ceremony as offering cultural practices shaped by awareness of and appreciation for change itself and refined over hundreds, sometimes thousands of years.  They also offer contexts for slowing down and experiencing today’s changing material conditions.

For example, the several centuries-old Japanese tea ceremony is a highly intentional gathering of people who become present to each other for a brief time by sharing hospitality and attuning to seasonal and contextual changes. The ceremony emphasizes the relational effects of intentional gesture and carefully prescribed physical conduct. In the context of our workshop, we offered points of entry for engagement:

  • How a traditional practice such as creating tea sweets to celebrate the nuances of the four “natural” seasons might assist us in attuning to the unprecedented, strange, volatile weather systems of climate change,
  • how performative gestures of hospitality and humility enacted during a tea ceremony might inform and inspire social conduct in times of over-population and limited resources,
  • how a traditional garden’s arrangements of rocks and water might acknowledge their powers as non-human forces, even as the garden functions as an urban park punctuated continuously by smells, sights and sounds of the Anthropocene.

ceremony_tableOmotesenke demonstration table for the tea ceremony

In preparation we sent guests a practice specifically created for the workshop entitled:  Practice for Living Time in and as the Anthropocene.

The practice was created to assist participants in generating ideas, images and objects that could then inform their creation of an Amulet for the Anthropocene.


Before going into the Japanese Garden for the tea ceremony, we invited participants to make a deliberate intention to invent a practice they would activate for themselves over the next hour and a half. They would enact the practice as a way of taking them out of their habitual ways of experiencing, and assisting them in more deliberately sensing changes unfolding around them.

Guests were invited to explore how they might closely observe material conditions (geologic/anthropogenic) assembling around and through them. Such as, sensing how the green, matcha tea is a material that has been exquisitely produced by its producers’ attunements to seasonal changes.  And how our drinking of this imported tea in San Francisco includes entanglements with material realities of global capital, distribution, and consumption. And, also, that all objects around us are entangled with material realities that extend into the times of the deep geologic past as well as the far future.

After a brief introduction we moved into the Japanese Garden. San Francisco’s fleet week events thundered overhead and rendered a potent juxtaposition and sharpened awareness of the active space above us while the Omotesenke tea ceremony demonstration unfolded for guests.




Omamori, a kind of Japanese amulet, is a small ubiquitous pouch found in Japan.  People often purchase them at shrines and temples, attach them to backpacks or purses, and “live with” them for the span of one year. They are believed to offer protection and good luck during this time, a kind of “safe passage” for a certain event or context. After a year they are typically replaced and renewed.

Common omamori include amulets for successful passing of exams, traffic safety, safe childbirth, good health, finding a mate, safe travel.

Following the tea ceremony, and after 30 minutes of taking up the Practice for Living Time in and as the Anthropocene on their own in the Park, workshop participants created amulets for the Anthropocene.


Amulets were made with the intention of “holding the thought” of the Anthropocene’s reality for one year. We asked, how might the creation of this amulet provide relief, wonder and wayfinding for everyday life in the Anthropocene? How might an amulet assist in holding the thought of some material reality or being that was in the midst of undergoing a planetary phase shift? We invited participants to consider setting a reminder on their smart phone for a year from the day, to see how the intentions they expressed through their omamori had unfolded.

The resulting amulets spanned a variety of content and intentions.

We wish for safe passage over the next year for all the amulets created — and offer sincere thanks to Stephen and all workshop participants.

amy_afforestwork-in-progress by Amy Balkin

jasonamulet by Jason Groves

matthewamulet by Matthew Cruz

aaronamulet by Aaron Czerny

amyamulet by Amy Balkin

jeffreyamulet by Jeffrey Blumenthal

ameliaamulet by Amelia Letvin

cameronamulet by Cameron Hughes

A Calendar for Living Times: Living Deep Time Calendar Year 000001 is ready for publication!
10.04.2016, 10:01 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

1_1After a year of research, design and production it’s ready for publication — a new calendar for grounding and navigating your life’s time in this strange new epoch of the Anthropocene.

We  launched the publication campaign for our project on Kickstarter, please check it out!   For a small pledge, you will be rewarded with a Living Deep Time 000001 Calendar, shipping by Dec. 15th, just in time for the December solstice.

When we started our research and design process, we had no idea what the Living Deep Time Calendar 000001 would look like or how it might be used. But we knew it would need to be a very different sort of calendar.  Because Earth is undergoing a time change. In fact, geologists say we’ve crossed into an entirely new geologic “season”: the Anthropocene. Time seems to be speeding up, pressing in, running out, intensifying, multiplying its forces and speeds, crisscrossing itself.

We need a strange new calendar for these strange new times. Human Standardized Time isn’t the time habitat our species evolved within. Many things and beings cannot thrive or even live according to its speeds and forces.  Humans included.

We have to adapt.


Living Deep Time Calendar Year 000001 is a daily practice that can help you adapt your own life’s rhythms to the times of the Anthropocene.

The funds from last year’s Kickstarter campaign allowed us to explore time habitats of the Anthropocene—that unrecognizable new epoch that is “now.” We unleashed our life’s time from our current calendars. We did field research into rich and strange temporalities all around us, and that took us far beyond human standardized time.

Here are some things we realized:

  • When you use any sort of calendar, you’re choosing to practice and perpetuate a certain kind of time.
  • We humans have always been tangled up with time-scapes much larger and much smaller than the ones depicted on our usual desk calendars.
  • We, and all other beings and things, are made up of the times of other things and beings.
  • We, and all things, have material connections to the deep geologic past and are increasingly entangled with deep geologic futures.
  • The times of life forms and material things on our planet are both of us and beyond us. These realizations filled us with wonder and appreciation.

We decided that the Living Deep Time Calendar Year 000001 could not simply track the weeks and months of standardized human time. It had to be an aesthetic provocation to create new ways of living time in the Anthropocene.

Because what we need is a calendar for co-existing with times beyond ourselves and our own species.

 Living Deep Time Calendar Year 000001 consists of:

  • a 46 card set, including three introductory cards and 43 poetic images with accompanying text.  They will escort you into encounters with the (often strange) times of a wide variety of things and beings.  Printed on both sides of elliptically shaped, 4.5″ x 5.25″, card stock.
  • naturally finished wood holder for displaying and interacting with the images and text, 
  • cotton-muslin bag to hold the collection of calendar cards,  
  • 6″ x 9″ illustration that you can mark daily to visualize where you are within the time-producing movements of the earth around the sun. 



The 43 calendar cards are your vehicles to:

  • Observe the massive and intimate forces of time within and around you.
  • Wonder at time’s speeds and scales.
  • Draw inspiration from time’s wild creativeness.
  • Navigate big fast change in the Anthropocene.
  • Re-score your own distracted “modern” rhythms.

The Living Deep Time Calendar 000001 includes images and text for the times of:

  • experience
  • fiber optic cables
  • temporary housing
  • Ise Jingu
  • the galactic year
  • the color blue
  • uranium
  • the human body
  • the ancestors
  • the fifth season
  • the hurricane
  • corals
  • kintsugi
  • jellyfish
  • the journey
  • soils
  • the cloud
  • plastic
  • bacteria
  • the zodiac
  • + more!


The Times of Shooting Stars, from Living Deep Time Calendar Year 0000119_1

The Times of Change, from Living Deep Time Calendar Year 000001

Maybe like us, you think it’s time to change the way we humans are living time on this planet.

Maybe like us, you think art can be a mysteriously powerful vehicle for doing just that.

When you practice Living Deep Time Calendar Year 000001, you connect to the many, and often strange, time beings beyond yourself.

You put into effect a channel for creating wonder and meaning in your life that won’t go extinct — not even in the Anthropocene.

We invite you to activate Living Deep Time Calendar Year 000001 as a medium for noticing and appreciating wildly diverse speeds, scales, rhythms and durations of time swirling around you, within you, and as you.  Use it as inspiration to create relief, wonder, and livable time in the Anthropocene.

The Last Eight Minutes
09.08.2016, 2:37 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


The sun, as many people know, is located some 93 million miles from Earth. That’s a large, even incomprehensible number. Yet, it’s the number that afforded just the right conditions for humans and all other current forms of life to evolve and thrive. A few million miles closer or further, and it would be a completely different story.

Our recent project, Living Deep Time Calendar Year 000001, led us to think about the sun quite a bit. After all, over millennia, earth/sun/moon dynamics have been the cycles of change that we humans have referenced in our attempts to develop meaningful calendars and understandings of time on Earth.

During year 000001 of our project, we paused with the reality that — when we’re outdoors, everything we see is bathed in eight-minute old sunlight (except for those few photons around that are actually older and have traveled farther to get here).

It’s amazing when you actually stop and think about this. The sun you see in the sky? It’s an eight-minute old image constantly being re-created. See your friend or partner across the yard? You are seeing them through eight-minute old sunlight. That “getable” eight minute duration somehow renders the extreme distance of the sun more accessible and relatable. Though it doesn’t lessen the imaginative effort it takes to grasp the fact that those photons that left the sun’s surface only eight minutes ago got here at an incomprehensible speed of 186,000 miles per second.  Not to mention the fact that their journey from the sun’s core, where they were produced, to the surface, where they were sent off into space, took many thousands of years. Or the fact that there will be a moment in the very far future when the sun becomes a white dwarf and its streams of photons slowly fade to black.  And that will inaugurate a very different sort of “last” eight minutes …

For now, the photons just keep steaming into our habit on Earth, showering it with energy that fuels pretty much every living thing. And the sun’s steadfastness as producer and deliverer of light actually offers some reassurance in the (recently) scientifically accepted epoch of the Anthropocene. So far, that reliable steam of photons feeding and illuminating us is one aspect of our Earth-bound habitat and our experiences of time that remains beyond human ability to alter.

We made the eight-minute relay of life-affording light the theme of our fourth and final postcard dispatch from the Living Deep Time Calendar Year 000001 project. And we plan to stage The Last Eight Minutes in a variety of experimental and theatrical forms in coming months.

We’re happy to announce that we will release the Living Deep Time Calendar Year 000001 through a Kickstarter publishing campaign in early October.  So, stay tuned for details on how to get your own calendar for living time differently in the Anthropocene, and enjoy the sunlight.

demotea_postcard_layout flare



KonMari Method for Climate Change
08.17.2016, 2:07 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

crumble2all 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.







05.28.2016, 3:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

blue_linecyanotype 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.

fish_housethe Fish House, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Captiva Island, FL, smudge studio 

fish_house_cyanFish House, from Conveyance, smudge studio 2016




waldo_cottageWaldo Cottage, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Captiva Island, FL, smudge studio


OH_installproject 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.



Plastiglomerate: the first stone that is 100 percent human in origin
05.21.2016, 2:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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.


smudge studio 2016

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.”


detail:  embedded shell.  smudge studio 2016

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.


Kamilo Beach, Hawaii.  Image:

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.


smudge studio 2016

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.


smudge studio 2016

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?

Graceful Migration
04.29.2016, 7:21 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

“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.”

ship2Houston 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.

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.

Media coverage of planetary change, much like the realities themselves, seems to have intensified. It’s becoming harder and harder to recall a recent day when headlines, at least in the New York Times, don’t include details of unexpected climate change speed and outcomes.
For the past three and a half years, we’ve been attempting to trace “the Anthropocene’s arrival into widespread human + nonhuman cognizance.” Our initial idea was to track this mindset change for five years on the assumption that during that time, “humans will grasp the speed, scale, and material realities of planetary change events more concretely.  Arguably, thoughts, dreams, actions and creative gestures that we humans make in response to our first inklings and shared experiences of Anthropocene events will set the stage for their potential consequences.” We spend a lot of time considering planetary change in our daily lives and work.  Still, we’re having a hard time keeping up, and we’re not the only ones.
smudge studio, 2010
We recently had the honor of presenting our work at the Cultures of Energy 5 Symposium, hosted by The Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS) at Rice University in Houston. The symposium’s schedule included a tour of the Houston Ship Channel, which serves the refineries that process 27 percent of the nation’s gasoline and 60 percent of its aviation fuel. During the tour we were surprised to learn about how  incredibly precarious this region and its infrastructures are to storm surge and rising seas.
smudge studio, 2016
Our ability to meaningfully process the March 30 report and our recent experiences in Houston will be assisted by our residency in the Rising Waters Confab next month.  The Confab is hosted on Captiva Island, FL by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.  It will be made up of  20 makers and thinkers whose lives and work address planetary change.
Two sentences the letter describing the Confab stood out for us:  “It is inevitable that climate change will require a phased adaptation proportionate to humanity’s ability to reduce consumption.  The focus will be on the idea of graceful migration…”
 smudge studio, 2016
In light of the recent Times article, these words resonate even more strongly for us.  We’ve been writing and thinking about graceful actions in response to emerging  (and relatively extreme) planetary circumstances for several years.  But recent studies bring realities of climate change-forced migrations very close to home. Though some humans might be willing and able to move as sea-levels rise, many others won’t due to economic, health, or deep, generations-long connections to place. And as a nation, we won’t be able to simply pick up and relocate immense and dense infrastructures we’ve built along coastlines around the world, such as nuclear power plants and their accumulating amounts of waste, which are currently reaching capacity.
Our work at the Rising Waters Confab will focus on the specifics of Captiva Island and Florida, one of the locations in North America most vulnerable to inundation by rising sea levels. But we’ll also be considering how our home, New York City, figures into these realities, as well as other coastlines around the world. This expanded view is instructive. Of course we act/feel differently when our city is one of the many facing the apparent inevitability of mass migrations and evacuations. But we’re also affected by deepening realization that the sooner we take this prospect seriously, the more time we’ll have (something that’s, increasingly, a luxury) to imagine and invent graceful ways to respond and interact with one another as inhabitants of a dramatically changed planet.
smudge studio, 2010