Permutating Mid-Winter: Just Because We Can’t See It Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Happening
01.30.2020, 6:05 pm
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permutation (n.)
“change, shift”, “to change, go, move,” from PIE root *per- (1) “forward,” hence “through…”

It’s a rare occurrence in daily life to have a context where we are invited to focus awareness on one sensory experience, and especially upon one that is so radically re-shaping life on Earth today. This Wednesday, on what meteorologists have designated as “mid-winter” in New York City (the day of the year that the average temperatures are lowest), we, along with five guests, set out to share tea in Prospect Park.  We gathered for Tea #4 of our Tea in the Dark project —a micro-production dedicated to cultivating an embodied awareness of planetary seasonal temperature lag.


The coldest day of the year, aka Mid-Winter or the thermal minimum, captured our imaginations after we learned about the seasonal lag and its material realities: the longest and shortest days of the year are not the coldest or the hottest. These days come weeks, sometimes months after year’s winter and summer solstices. We were fascinated to learn that the duration of the lags vary, sometimes quite significantly, for each geographic location on Earth—unlike the moments of solstice or equinox, which are the same around the globe.

New York City’s coldest on average day occurs 39 days after winter solstice on January 29th. On that day, the average low is 28°F and the high is 39°F. The city’s hottest day on average falls on July 20th (high of 85°F, low of 71°F). New York City has a a three and a half month long cold season. In contrast, San Francisco, has a four month “cool season” with the coldest day being January 3rd (a relatively balmy average low of 45°F and high of 56°F). The City by the Bay’s hottest day of the year occurs nearly two months later than NYC’s, on September 19th (high of 72°F and low of 58°F).  You can check your city’s hottest and coldest dates on Weather Spark.

You can read more about the science of the seasonal lag here, and about the math of the lag here, but the basic idea is that the earth’s various surface areas warm up and cool down at different speeds, depending on local conditions such as the amount of solar radiation reaching a particular area (aka, insolation). Given the angle and amount of time that the sun’s heat hits a particular location, the heat it generates in the soil and water builds up and dissipates through time and space at different rates and intensities.


For us, the meteorological dynamics that drive the year’s hottest and coldest days echo one of the most challenging characteristics of the Anthropocene. Namely, that it is patchy—as in, unevenly distributed. The predictions of the coldest and warmest days are based on historical averages, or climate normals, and are quickly being rendered less than accurate by climate change. The forces effecting all geographic locations on Earth (and their habitats) are increasingly variable. Just two weeks earlier than our micro-production, on January 12th, 2020, temperatures in Central Park reached a record high of 68°F.

With no certainty as to what the actual seasonal conditions for our tea would be, we invited guests to join us for our mid-winter iteration of Tea in the Dark . Our goal for this event was simple: to offer guests a context to pause together in an outdoor environment, with tea, and experience a human-scaled engagement with seasonal and temperature lag. To actually feel this change, literally in our hands, for ourselves, without distraction.

We staged the tea at a picnic table at the edge of Prospect Park, under a brilliant blue sky, relatively low winds and a temperature of 41 degrees. The flower arrangement for the occasion, crocus bulbs, evoked the energy gathering, unseen to human eyes, but at work all around us and building toward spring with each day, post-mid-winter.


After introductory words, we rang a brass bowl. The experience of listening to the ringing was an invitation to note the physical and temporal lags that permutated across time and the metal of the bow, between the striking of the bell and the dissipation of vibrations and sound waves. We invited guest to then focus their attention on the cold of the Tilt of the Earth teacup that they held in their hands. Hot water was poured into each cup, pre-warming it for tea. As heat permutated through the porcelain, guests were invited to sense the transfer of heat—and its lag—for themselves, while using their imaginations to extend the scale of this awareness to that of the planetary.



We deliberately chose to brew a rare Fall Shincha for the occasion. Shincha translates as “new tea” and is a spring tea typically only offered in May. Kettl Brooklyn’s Fall Shincha undergoes a six month refrigerated aging known as jukusei. So, as we sat together in Prospect Park, at the deepest mid-point of winter, we offered a taste of spring through this tea’s alchemy of brilliant generative sun and the dark, ripening time of cold storage. Yuzu and sansho pepper mochi, made locally by mochi rin, accompanied the tea.


watercolor cards gifted to guests, edition of 6, smudge studio 002020


The poetic invitation of Tea #4 of Tea in the Dark was to sense material and temporal transfers among bodies. The effects of material exchanges occurring across micro-to planetary scales take place continuously, whether humans are physically able to see them or not, and whether humans designed these exchanges or not. The consequences of these mutual transformations may not manifest for hours, weeks, or millennia. Our abilities to grasp this reality and its complexities, and attune our senses, bodies, and actions to it, enriches our life. It also may help us in navigating the uncertainty of the Anthropocene.



Additional details about Permutating Mid-Winter: Just Because We Can’t See it Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Happening are posted on the digital chakaiki under Tea #4.

As we continue to stage tea for Koans for the Anthropocene: Tea in the Dark, we invite collaborations and opportunities to share tea.

* all images this page FOP/smudge studio 002020

Announcing publication of Solid, Broken, Changing
01.27.2020, 1:41 pm
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Screen Shot 2020-01-19 at 11.00.28 AM

We are happy to announce the publication of a work of fiction by Elizabeth Ellsworth, inspired by smudge studio’s 15 years of collaborative art-making.

Solid, Broken, Changing is a young adult novel about an intuitive young woman who wakes up to the reality of the Anthropocene — just when she is setting out to pursue her life’s dreams.

As each new day turns the world and the future more strange and uncertain, Kally and her unexpected ally, Stuart, dare to confront the fact that they are enmeshed with, and in, the Anthropocene. It is a courageous, generative act—even if it doesn’t always feel that way. New realizations about the immensity of the changes taking place come fast and furious, and Kally and Stuart are buffeted by their emotional force. Growing new skills and inventively adapting old ones, they dead reckon into undreamt of futures that are suddenly theirs.

Like smudge’s ongoing projects, Solid, Broken, Changing connects the intimacy of daily experience to the vast, generative forces of deep time and geological change.

Writing the book began as a way to give voice to smudge’s lived experiences of field-researching and responding to the Anthropocene as artists. The novel was in rough outline form seven years ago when journalists first began to explain the word “Anthropocene” to their readers. As Anthropocene events ramified, the book project took on even more urgency and relevance. Its print proof was being edited when Greta Thunberg crossed the Atlantic and as the 2019-20 fires raged in Australia. And now, Solid, Broken, Changing feels less like a fiction and more like an artifact of the contemporary moment.

Staging a story about living the Anthropocene on the threshold of adulthood felt appropriate. It’s a time when self and self-in-the-world undergo radical transformations. The ways that we humans envision the future as we cross—or fail to cross—the threshold into adulthood, trigger outcomes that are long term and far from knowable. The ongoing question of how humans continuously shape “the future” of our species and the planet by our habits, actions, and desires is the predicament that lies at the heart of both this novel and the Anthropocene.

Ways of meeting and living the Anthropocene; emotional resiliency in the wake of massive change; dangers, challenges and wonders of co-existence; what it means to realize that we are of the Anthropocene and it is of us—these are several of the contemporary conditions of daily life that Solid, Broken, Changing explores through narrative fiction.

Solid, Broken, Changing is available in paperback and as an Ebook.

IMG_0487photo by smudge, from Conveyance 

Earth at Perihelion, Sharing Tea with the Sun (Tea in the Dark #3)

brewing tea in sunlight that traveled approx. 91,398,199 miles, on the occasion of the solar perihelion, January 5, 002020

Recently, in a glint of sunlight hitting a sidewalk or passing through a window, perhaps you felt it. Cutting through the winter sky, brilliant light looming closer. On some deep instinctual level, maybe you sensed yourself swinging through space, closer to the sun by just over three million miles.

This past Sunday, all 7.5+ billion human inhabitants of Earth orbited closer to the Sun than they will for another twelve months. Each year in early January, Earth reaches its  perihelion (closest distance to the sun) along its elliptical orbit. At 2:47am on January 5th (in New York) Earth was approximately 91,398,199 miles away from the sun. That is 3,109,435 miles closer than it will be at aphelion, its furthest point, on July 4, 2020 at 7:34 am (EDT).

Before beginning the Tea in the Dark project, the perihelion had not really registered in our awareness. It sounded like a solar oddity. Fast on the heels of winter solstice — the shortest day and longest night for us in the Northern hemisphere — we are actually closest to the sun. Perihelion could be considered the bright, fast yang sibling to winter’s solstice’s slow and long yin. Given our location in orbit around the sun and the tilt of our planet, the sun is currently sending the Earth’s southern hemisphere more energy than any other time of year. (To read about how oceans and land masses transmute that increased energy, sometimes counterintuitively, into cold weather in the global north and hot weather in the global south, check out the following link).

At the scale the solar system, the three million miles difference between Earth’s perihelion and aphelion doesn’t result in a perceptible difference to our daily lives. Yet, at a human-scale, three million miles is immense. What we humans take as being proximate, urgent, salient to the shaping of life on Earth, tends to be a matter of perspective. Yet imperceptible differences are no less materially real. Given our interest in pausing with and attempting to embody awareness of vastly different scales of material reality, this year’s perihelion became an important occasion to stage a project for Tea in the Dark.

We were extremely fortunate to have the artist Ayano Matsumae as our guest for Tea in the Dark at Earth’s perihelion. Ayano makes photographic images through a process that is highly responsive to changing planetary forces and materials and invites the sun to be her collaborator. Working primarily with a pinhole or 4×5 camera, she exposes photographic film to light, develops the negatives by by hand, and crafts albumen prints of the negatives using sunlight. The process requires deep awareness of changing environmental and sunlight conditions. The resulting prints are some of the most environmentally-attuned works we have encountered.

Ayano Matsumae, Albumen print on Gampi paper, San Lorenzo, NM, 2018

Ayano Matsumae, Albumen print on Gampi paper, Rio Grande T or C, NM, 2019

Given the recent string of overcast days, it was an immense gift to share a sunny morning and celebrate a cosmological force so central to our existence as humans and artists — the sun.

For the perihelion, we brewed tea directly in the sun with no additional means of heat. Sunlight at this time of year reaches the interior of our apartment at 10:30am. Ayano was kind enough to arrive before 10 am. For 20 minutes, as the tea brewed, the sun generated a cyanotype (solar print) of the tea utensils. We then enjoyed sun tea in Tilt of the Earth teacups. Cheers were voiced as the last ray of sunlight exited the room.

cyano_type_smallsolar imprint of tea utensils used for Tea in the Dark, Tea #3, smudge studio

Additional details for Earth at Perihelion (Tea in the Dark #3), can be found on the digital chakaiki for Tea in the Dark, listed under Tea #3.

Tilting towards Change: Winter Solstice (Tea in the Dark #2)
01.07.2020, 6:20 pm
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watercolor images (top and bottom page) for Tea in the Dark, smudge studio 002019, dots/angles mark the sunset/sunrise tea staged for tea on Winter Solstice 002019

The cloudy grey afternoon had started to transition, almost imperceptibly, into the longest night of the year. Glancing at our watches, we knew we had just over an hour before darkness would envelop the space. We put a kettle on the stove, switched on the camera, and carried Tilt of the Earth teacups to the brightest part of the apartment near the eastern windows. As we approached sunset, the pace of the light’s changes sped up. Shadows deepened rapidly and filled corners of the room. We wondered at how quickly the time and space of transition from light to dark was now taking place.

Winter Solstice 002019 occurred on December 21st at 11:19pm in New York City. FOP/smudge studio marked the occasion for by preparing tea in the waning light of the 21st at 3:19pm (sunset 4:31 pm). Eight hours later solstice occurred in the dark of night at our geographic location on Earth. Eight hours after solstice, we greeted the weak morning light of the first full day of winter by preparing tea again at 7:19 am, on December 22nd. The “shortest” day of the year in New York had totaled 9 hours and 15 minutes of daylight, and 14 hours and 45 minutes minutes of darkness.

The concept for our second tea of the Koans for the Anthropocene: Tea in the Dark project was to bookend nearly the 15 hours of winter solstice darkness by preparing and sharing tea within the changing light leading into, and out of, the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. This tea was held in acknowledgement of the cosmological occasion itself, and as an opportunity to attune our human bodies to the earth’s tilt, the seasonal changes of light and dark that it creates, and the ways it has shaped and afforded the evolution of biological life on our planet.

To document the deep dome of darkness that we spun into during these 24-hours, we photographed a day-long time-lapse of the changing light, comprised of 302 images angled at the 23.5 degrees of the earth. The time-lapse began at 3pm on December 21st and completed at 3pm, December 22nd. We varied the lapse between images to document the relatively rapid transitions through civil, nautical and astronomical twilight into night (images were taken every 2 minutes during twilight and every 15 minutes overnight).

tiltnightdigital still, from Tea in the Dark (winter solstice), 002019

December 22, 002019, 7:30am

Moving into our third month of the Tea in the Dark project, we realize that the project enables us to more easily maintain an awareness of cosmic forces and events that intimately shape our daily lives. It also supports an embodied sense of Earth’s changing location as it orbits the sun. We feel as though the sensibilities generated by marking the winter solstice with Tea in the Dark will stay consciously active between now and the June 002020 summer solstice. We are already noticing the slight changes in light that will build to the full brightness of summer.

At varying scales and temporalities, our orbital path around the sun is full of such yin/yang alignments, including March’s spring equinox and its autumn counterpart in September. These alignments aren’t merely dates on calendars. They are actual angles of light, speeds and movements of Earth though space, that casting of planet-scale shadows, warming of oceans, cooling of vast continents, triggering of mass migrations, incitements of storms and fires — all of which co-mingle unpredictably with emerging Anthropocene realities.

For us, the “dark” of Tea in the Dark doesn’t refer to the literal darkness of winter’s night. It is a medium for exploring ways that humans might live within the uncertainties spawned by the rapidly changing material conditions on Earth — and for inviting the humility required to acknowledge that these changes are not all about us.

While the 23.5 degree tilt of the earth is the primary force behind seasonality and the long dark winter nights in the Northern Hemisphere, a complexity of forces is currently affecting longtime patterns of how weather and climate unfold on Earth. As winter solstice took place in the north, December 21st marked summer solstice for the Southern Hemisphere. Sunlight bathed cities such as Sydney, Australia in nearly 15 hours of intense, relatively direct sunlight. And as we write this post in early January of 002020, summer wildfires in the Southern Hemisphere have fast become some of the most severe on record, compounding the worldwide material consequences of the urgent climate emergency underway.


Additional details for our winter solstice tea can be found on the digital chakaiki for Tea in the Dark, listed under Tea #2.



Koans for the Anthropocene: Tea in the Dark (Tea #1)
11.22.2019, 10:50 am
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image: for Genzan and Naoko, Tea in the Dark (Drinking Tea, Foot Before, Foot Behind (cleaving dusk/dawn), smudge studio 002019

Ancestor Exalt/Gazing at the Sacred Peak

What is this ancestor Exalt Mountain like?
Endless greens of north and south meeting

where Changemaker distills divine beauty,
where yin and yang cleave dusk and dawn.

Chest heaving breathes out cloud, and eyes
open dusk bird-flight home. One day soon,

on the summit, peaks ranging away will be
small enough to hold, all in a single place.

Tu Fu (717-770 C.E), translation David Hinton

It was a grey morning in Kyoto and at 6am it was still very dark outside. 7,000 miles away, a cloudy day was coming to an end in Brooklyn and we were completing the final preparations for the project that was about to begin.

Kyoto 6am Nov. 19th | Brooklyn, 4pm Nov. 20th

One day a year, there is an alignment between Earth and Sun that creates an experiential connection between Kyoto, Japan and Brooklyn, New York across great geographic distance (approx. 6,872 mi or 11,059 km).

On November 19th, 002019, sunset in Brooklyn occurred at 4:35 p.m. (local time), while in Kyoto at the same moment, sunrise occurred at 6:35 a.m. on November 20th, 002019 (local time).

Within that same minute, the two locations passed briefly and simultaneously through the sweeping, diffused edge of the shadow cast by the Earth. Earth’s rotation animated this edge. In Kyoto, humans passed through the transition from shadow to light: dawn. While in New York, humans passed from sunlight to shadow: dusk. This shared moment held within it two perspectives of one vast and continuous planetary motion — the cleaving of yin陰/yang陽, dusk/dawn.

“Light and darkness are a pair, like the foot before and the foot behind.” — Sandokai

Through the project entitled, Drinking Tea, Foot Before, Foot Behind (cleaving dusk/dawn), we, in Brooklyn, prepared and drank tea with friends and teachers living in Kyoto, while honoring the non-duality of “day” and “night,” “dusk” and “dawn,” “light” and “darkness.” For 30 minutes, via an online video connection, we enjoyed conversation, ate seasonal sweets together, observed the quickly changing light in both locations, and then prepared tea for one another. Our drinking of tea at 4:35pm EDT/6:35am JPT, as Earth spun simultaneously into “night” and “day,” collapsed the scale of the planetary to the scale of the human. We acknowledged the intimate planetary forces that all humans share, and the ongoing rhythms of Sun that arise and pass away, generating all life on Earth. 

whisking tea together, Kyoto 6:30 am Nov. 19th | Brooklyn, 4:30pm Nov. 20th

By experiencing this specific changing moment with other humans living on the “opposite side of the planet”, we rethought conceptions of separation and duality. We embodied the realization that day and night, light and dark, are the same thing—they are the ongoing transition-spin of Earth.

drinking tea together, Kyoto sunrise Nov. 19th | Brooklyn sunset Nov. 20th

scroll selected and hung by Genzan and Naoko for the occasion in Kyoto, “Tea is exactly the source of the longevity” Kan-un, 100 years old, Rinzai sect, 1859-1959


Drinking Tea, Foot Before, Foot Behind (cleaving dusk/dawn) was the first tea of Koans for the Anthropocene: Tea in the Dark

From November 002019 through December 002020, we will co-create inventive forms of tea practice across widely varied geographies, times, spaces and forms of conduct. We will experiment with tea’s potential to enable skillful improvisation, poetic transposition, empirical observation, ritual conduct, and hospitality as a medium for intentional co-existence.
Each tea event will be part of growing archive of projects for Koans for the Anthropocene: Tea in the Dark, including a ledger of production details, traditionally called a Chakaiki (茶会記).
We see the preparation and consumption of tea as a mutually responsive practice of hospitality. Making, sharing, and drinking tea within varied conditions and forms exposes us to sensory experiences of change. It also inserts pause and reflection in habits of mind, gesture, and pace.
Tea practice can transmute vast scales and cosmological forces of elemental change into a humble, liveable human experience.
In this way, Tea in the Dark serves as an ecological act that assists in re-weaving modern consciousness into cosmological rhythms of continuous change, thereby easing life in the Anthropocene.

In the spirit of the ancient wandering tea monks who have inspired us, we welcome friends, colleagues and strangers to allow us to make tea with and for them as Koans for the Anthropocene: Tea in the Dark.  Please let us know if you have ideas you would like to share for micro-productions, private teas, or ways to collaboratively activate smudge studio’s Tilt of the Earth 23.5º Teacups.

Hosting Cosmological Change
09.23.2019, 8:44 am
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image: smudge studio

Fifteen guests took their seats at the edge of a creek and night fell in Upstate New York. The low valley and absence of artificial light made darkness come quickly. A take-away gift booklet was distributed. Specially prepared moon/cosmos-viewing sweets in the Japanese tradition were offered. Hoji-cha tea was served in the spirit of ancient Taoist tea sages and monks. Moments of silent savoring, observation, and reflection were punctuated with words of introduction and provocation. The moon rose slowly through the surrounding trees. The humans who gathered were invited to sense the reality that the so-called “dark” cosmos night above us was actually filled with photons of light, streaming from the Sun and other stars. It’s a reality that has been shaping the geo-bio materiality of our planet for billions of years. And yet, our language and habits of perception had difficulty “seeing” the night sky as a flood of light.

Cosmos Night: Flood of Light was staged on September 8th, 002019 at Arts Letters & Numbers at 7pm, timed to coincide with the rising, waxing moon of early September.

The opportunity to spend time outdoors, undistracted, with a small group of people in the quiet of night is an increasingly rare experience. We remain committed to exploring what such micro-productions can offer when staged as aesthetic acts of hospitality for living with and through the Anthropocene.

A compelling question that drives our current work is: how might human minds/bodies maintain a sense of deep embeddedness within larger planetary/cosmic forces. False senses of separation from those forces are at the core of our current climate emergency. They also contribute to the many faltering approaches to “solve” it.  Empirical experiences of deep interconnection are severed by architecture, media, many modes of transportation, industrial-scale food production — as well as the language we use. We increasingly feel that offering aesthetic contexts designed to stitch humans back into the cosmos is a radical, ecological act.

As artists, we are seeking to do this by inserting the cosmological within the “environmental” through acts common to everyday life, such as sitting together, observing changing conditions such as light, drinking tea. Providing an occasion for humans to sense for themselves the variation of forces present and passing through planet Earth (wind, temperature, light etc.) — and beyond— while experiencing acts of hospitality, opens the potential to begin re-weaving our consciousness back into the cosmological context to which we belong.

image: smudge studio

*Unless otherwise noted, all micro-production images this page courtesy of —  and sincere thanks to — Lisa Hirmer.

** A small number of copies of the Cosmos Night: Flood of Light limited-edition zine are available. The booklet includes poetic and graphic transpositions of In Praise of Shadows, Sandokai, D.T Suzuki, yugen, Tan Twan Eng, We’Moon, Shurangama Sutra, No-Gate Gateway + David Hinton, Baisao, Kinkaku-ji. Please inquire through project page.


Cosmos Night: Flood of Light
08.08.2019, 10:14 am
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FOP/smudge 002019

The night sky isn’t dark at all. Literally, within what we’ve been calling darkness, there is a radiance of light.

There is a way to empirically experience the flood of photons flowing through the seemingly dark sky: view the Moon at night. As you allow the photons bouncing off of the moon to enter your eyes, visualize the “dark” space between the earth and the moon, the moon and the sun, indeed — the entire 360 degree space around the sun — as what it actually is: brimming with blindingly bright photons that are missing the moon as they wave past and away from it at the speed of light.

Many people might be familiar with the sutra made famous by Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon. It uses the analogy of a finger pointing to the moon to remind us about mistaking the pointing finger for the moon. It’s a lesson in realizing that the word we use to describe an object or experience is not the object or experience it points to.  

Grammars of western languages compel us to think in terms of subjects and objects, insides and outsides, me and that-other-over-there. But the space-time continuum of the night sky is a non-duality. Light is moving within the dark, and dark is moving within the light.

Light. Darkness. Not one. Not two.

Our current project, Cosmos Night: Flood of Light, is a micro-production for engaging these ideas. We will stage its first iteration at Arts Letters & Numbers early next month for a group of resident artists, culture workers and community members. We offer it, and its various future iterations, as radical acts of hospitality for living daily life within the Anthropocene.

The work is part empirical observation, part moon-viewing gathering, part act of self-cultivation and part participant co-production. It will include experiencing the waxing September moon, a 22-page risograph zine created for the occasion, and a moon-viewing tea service. Tea will be offered in the spirit of the Taoist sages, court poets, tea monks, and all others who have taken time to pause and find aesthetic means for aligning their lives, bodies, and minds with the vast forces of the cosmos.

We have created this micro-production for the joy and meaning that results when humans cultivate relationality with vast, geo/cosmo forces. We see it as being a practice for working with our minds and the languages we use as we live through the unprecedented change of the Anthropocene. Our aim is to provide an aesthetic medium for accessing what is magnificently beyond us by re-weaving brains, bodies and minds back into the cosmos.

Each time we nest seemingly commonplace activities of daily life–such as moon viewing and tea drinking–within cosmological forces and scales, we perform a vital aesthetic-ecological act.

from the program for ALN micro-production, Cosmos Night: Flood of Light, risograph zine

Our research and preparation for the project found quite a few examples of human awareness of the material reality that dark exists within light, light exists within dark. Our risograph zine produced for Cosmos Night: Flood of Light is our creative response to these examples. One is the Sandokai, a Chinese poem from the 700s (which we’ve written about before) reads in part: Within light there is darkness, but do not try to understand that darkness; Within darkness there is light, but do not look for that light.”). And, in David Hinton’s translation of a collection of Zen koans (No-Gate Gateway), Case #39, entitled “CLOUD GATE ALL WRONG” begins, “A monk asked Cloud-Gate Mountain, Radiant brilliance silently illuminates this Cosmos vast as Ganges sands…”

We are inspired by the history of humans sitting still, observing, sensing, thinking, and creating in relation to the vast material realities that shape our lives intimately—while using nothing more or less than their brains/bodies/minds. 

Cosmos Night: Flood of Light aims to be an occasion where, together with participants, we will empirically experience the 360 degrees of wild, blinding light stretching before us for billions of light-years, and unhinge a few of the names we’ve used to point at (and miss) the wildly unpredictable forces that are neither nameable objects nor binary opposites: night, day, light, dark, sun, moon. We hope to do this in an undistracted state, using the “technologies” of our bodies, the out of doors, the night sky, and aesthetic experience. We hope to gain (re-discover?) an embodied experience of reweaving our selves into the cosmos. 

Additional documentation will be posted in October 002019.


Cosmos Night: Flood of Light is part of a larger, ongoing project Koans for the Anthropocene, through which we aim to offer local, ephemeral, unrepeatable acts of aesthetic hospitality. Through Koans, we invite audiences to pay close attention to the ever-shifting and impermanent conditions of life on Earth by enframing seemingly commonplace activities of everyday life (the drinking of tea, the awareness of sunlight) within perspectives on time, landscape, and interactivity that are geologic in scale. By offering embodied experiences of the Anthropocene nested within the cosmological, we aim to deepen collective abilities to re-scale human expectations of stability and predictability, without sinking into distraction or despair, and to creatively inhabit Earth’s ever-changing conditions.

Living the Improbable
04.12.2019, 4:42 pm
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“Human beings were catastrophists at heart until their instinctive awareness of Earth’s unpredictability was supplanted by a belief in uniformitarianism — … and also a range of government practices informed by statistical probability.” – Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement

impact, smudge studio 002019

We recommend two pieces of reading, perhaps most effectively experienced side by side. Amitav Ghosh’s 2016 The Great Derangement and Michael Preston’s “The Day the Dinosaurs Died” from the April 8th, 2019 issue of The New Yorker.

They resonate deeply with ideas shaping our current work and process, and reading them has helped to segue us into our upcoming projects. The book and article also renewed our sense that creative practice will continue to play a vital role in how the Anthropocene unfolds from here.

For Ghosh, “The Great Derangement” is the “time when most forms of art and literature were drawn into modes of concealment that prevented people from recognizing the realities of their plight...” as agents of the Anthropocene. He sees forms of Modern writing as distracting (mostly Western) humans from sensing, noting, or being able to imagine the Anthropocene events that have been taking shape over the last 100 years. Ironically, this potentially catastrophic distraction is chronic in an era that “self-congratulates itself on self-awareness.”

In The Day the Dinosaur’s Died, Preston, via Roger Shattuck, reiterates Gosh’s lament that, “Twentieth century art has tended to ‘search itself’ rather than exterior reality” and “human consciousness and identity [has been] placed at the center of every kind of aesthetic enterprise.”

Humans aren’t the reason for, nor are they the culmination of, Earth’s 4.6 billion year existence. Ignoring this has been unhealthy for our species — and many many other species on Earth. Ghosh posits that art has had a significant role in preventing modern humans from making meaningful contact with this perspective.

Preston dramatically reveals this perspective to be scientific fact. “The Day the Dinosaurs Died” literally blows our self-referential, self-congratulatory impulses to bits by vividly reminding inhabitants of Earth that our planet is not immune from the destructive-generative forces of the cosmos. He actually reminds us that as indifferent and random as they might seem, we are indebted to these forces. They paved the way for our own species’ evolution 66 million years ago. The KT boundary-marking asteroid ushered in the opportunity for new forms of mammalian life to thrive and evolve in the Paleogene (including, eventually, we humans) via the total obliteration of nearly life forms all that had thrived in the age of dinosaurs. Best we don’t forget the generative, ongoing power of the geo/cosmos, as Ghosh admonishes.

Though not written as the Anthropocenian fiction or “literary art” that Gosh wishes for, Preston’s piece is filled with awe-inspiring wonder and gripping storytelling. It left us with a lingering sensation of the extent to which the actual material reality of living on Earth is wildly unpredictable, and fascinating — in some ways even more compelling than what we humans have creatively imagined about the fact of our existence on Earth thus far. All of what humans make…is derivative.

Case in point, from Preston:

“When Earth’s crust rebounded, a peak higher than Mt. Everest briefly rose up… a gigantic jet of molten material, which exited the atmosphere, some of it fanning out over North America. Much of the material was several times hotter than the surface of the sun, and it set fire to everything within a thousand miles. In addition, an inverted cone of liquefied, superheated rock rose, spread outward as countless red-hot blobs of glass, called tektites, and blanketed the Western Hemisphere.

Some of the ejecta escaped Earth’s gravitational pull and went into irregular orbits around the sun. Over millions of years, bits of it found their way to other planets and moons in the solar system… A 2013 study in the journal Astrobiology estimated that tens of thousands of pounds of impact rubble may have landed on Titan, a moon of Saturn, and on Europa and Callisto, which orbit Jupiter—three satellites that scientists believe may have promising habitats for life. 

The asteroid was vaporized on impact. Its substance, mingling with vaporized Earth rock, formed a fiery plume, which reached halfway to the moon before collapsing in a pillar of incandescent dust. Computer models suggest that the atmosphere within fifteen hundred miles of ground zero became red hot from the debris storm, triggering gigantic forest fires. As the Earth rotated, the airborne material converged at the opposite side of the planet, where it fell and set fire to the entire Indian subcontinent. Measurements of the layer of ash and soot that eventually coated the Earth indicate that fires consumed about seventy per cent of the world’s forests. Meanwhile, giant tsunamis resulting from the impact churned across the Gulf of Mexico, tearing up coastlines, sometimes peeling up hundreds of feet of rock, pushing debris inland and then sucking it back out into deep water, leaving jumbled deposits that oilmen sometimes encounter in the course of deep-sea drilling.

The damage had only begun. Scientists still debate many of the details, which are derived from the computer models, and from field studies of the debris layer, knowledge of extinction rates, fossils and microfossils, and many other clues. But the over-all view is consistently grim. The dust and soot from the impact and the conflagrations prevented all sunlight from reaching the planet’s surface for months. Photosynthesis all but stopped, killing most of the plant life, extinguishing the phytoplankton in the oceans, and causing the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere to plummet. After the fires died down, Earth plunged into a period of cold, perhaps even a deep freeze. Earth’s two essential food chains, in the sea and on land, collapsed. About seventy-five per cent of all species went extinct. More than 99.9999 per cent of all living organisms on Earth died, and the carbon cycle came to a halt.”

Humans evolved within the aftermath of this chaos. We owe our existence to it. No one knows what material outcomes the Anthropocene will usher into reality over the next few decades, but we are in the midst of many unfolding extinctions.

Ghosh argues that it is the responsibility of artists and writers to imagine possibilities. We agree. Though Ghosh is primarily making his case for the field of literary fiction, we feel this applies to the visual arts, politics and beyond. He calls for art that “communicates with vividness, the uncanniness and improbability, the magnitude and the interconnectedness of the transformations that are now underway.”  One strategy for moving toward this vision is to move away from distorted notions of time and history as “continuous, irreversible, forward movement, led by an avant-garde.”

Our intuition is that American culture might have arrived at a point of being able accept that it is time to learn to co-exist with uncertainty; that we should indeed prepare to live through what, according to economic, environmental, and environmental statistics, might have seemed improbable only a few decades ago; that we can learn something vital about uncertainty by making engaging the geological and cosmological realities that intimately shape our lives. A real and meaningful connection exists between our lives today and the wild forces that have continually shaped and re-shaped our planet over billions of years. To make this connection is the aim of our work as “environmental” artists.

The environmental challenges (floods, fires, droughts, historic storms, etc.) over the last few years are pressuring our culture into a state humility. Denial, habitual beliefs and simple answers on what “to do” or how to “solve” the climate crisis have shifted somewhat, giving way to more unsettling realizations. The emerging awareness of endless entanglement reflects just how complex the issues are: simply not using plastic bags is not an environmental “solution”; there is no single plant-based milk that “solves” questions of sustainable farming or nutrition in the Anthropocene.

The unsettled and uncertain is a worthy place from which to initiate creative work — it’s real.

Together, Preston and Ghosh make a strong case for recalling that our planet and its species is not immune from the improbable. Myths of Modernism might have made humans feel temporarily safe, mistakenly leading us to believe we could engineer everything and anything, but this has never been a reality.

The logics that created the Anthropocene will not offer us the pathways we will need for living the Anthropocene.

Sensing the connections between human experience and cosmological change, as abstract and improbable as they seem, opens space for accessing our species’ instinctual awareness of planetary unpredictability. It also opens space for (modern) humility. If we are less surprised when change of all magnitudes comes, we might respond differently to the (ever-changing) pressures of everyday life within the Anthropocene. Change is inevitable. How we live it can be intentional, well considered, and creative. 

It is the job of artists to make the material realities of life on Earth something livable, even if how is not yet imaginable from here. But, if we no longer look for solutions, or for “heroes”, we can free up our focus for the urgent tasks at hand. There is a much more interesting and lively story unfolding (outside!) and it can be re-learned. We have always been living with and in the improbable.




Earthly Impressions: Drinking Tea at the Tilt of the Earth is an Ecological Act
03.13.2019, 8:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


On March 1st and 2nd, smudge studio staged a micro-production at the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle. Our project was hosted by the Earthly Impressions:  Book, Text and Archive in the Anthropocene symposium, convened by The Anthropocene Research Cluster at the University of Washington.

During two afternoon sessions, we offered Tea at the Tilt of the Earth to two small groups of symposium participants and members of the public. Both days, the event began at solar noon (12:21 pm in Seattle).

Upon arriving at the Henry’s auditorium, guests received a short introduction and then invited to take a seat on the stage and observe an array of the Tilt of the Earth 23.5º Teacups.  In silence, they read a card contextualizing the micro-production within the themes of the symposium, while shade-grown sencha from Japan was brewed and served. After 15 minutes of silent reading and drinking of tea, we moved into James Turrell’s Light Reign Skyspace at the Gallery for discussion. The light, air and change in temperature of the bright, early March afternoon poured in through the open roof of the Skyspace, and co-mingled with Anthropocene-infused forces. Planes passed through the framed sky overhead and traffic sounds filtered in through the open ceiling and door.

During the discussion, participants expressed appreciation for the chance to pause within the busy flow of the symposium, as well as a chance to sit with one another (mostly strangers) in silence. They also said they welcomed the material prompt of the tilted cups which invited them to project their imaginations into planetary-scale forces, and pause to intentionally experience how our own bodies are “impressed” by those forces at the scale of the everyday. The tea was also savored!

This is the first Tea at the Tilt of the Earth event that smudge studio has offered in 002019. We look forward to further collaborations and offering context-specific micro-productions in the near future.


*sincere thanks to our generous host Jason Groves. All images this page FOP, 002019, micro-production photography by Stefan Gonzales.

This is Where We Are, Tipped Towards 002019
11.27.2018, 11:43 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Our planet continues to move around the sun at a remarkable 67,000 miles per hour. Its season-inducing movement plays out in countless ways across the systems of Earth. As we orbit towards winter solstice on December 21st,  Earth’s 23.5º axial tilt tips the Northern Hemisphere further away from the sun and into its winter months.

In honor of this ongoing change that will bring a conclusion to 002018, we offer one more chance this year to order your own Tilt of the Earth 23.5º Teacup. You can learn more about the cups and order one or more on smudge studio’s website. Thanks to the inspiring home studio set-up of our production collaborators Zachary Fields and Janna Dewan  in Portland, Maine, they were produced using 100% solar power (kiln, wheels, lighting etc.).

We are very happy to make the cups available for your efforts to ground and connect daily life with the larger material conditions that shape life on Earth.

Each cup is shipped with a certificate of authenticity of its limited edition and an “instruction” card for invited use.

Finding ways to practice daily life at the scale of the geo/cosmo magnitude is an ecological practice that is becoming more and more vital each day.

Bill McKibben recently wrote in the New Yorker:

“The poorest and most vulnerable will pay the highest price. But already, even in the most affluent areas, many of us hesitate to walk across a grassy meadow because of the proliferation of ticks bearing Lyme disease which have come with the hot weather; we have found ourselves unable to swim off beaches, because jellyfish, which thrive as warming seas kill off other marine life, have taken over the water. The planet’s diameter will remain eight thousand miles, and its surface will still cover two hundred million square miles. But the earth, for humans, has begun to shrink, under our feet and in our minds.”

We appreciate McKibben’s geological scale of thinking. This brilliantly concise paragraph spans the local, global, personal, political, social, human and the non-human — all of which exist within the larger, seemingly indifferent cosmological forces. The geo/cosmo scale out of which we evolved precedes our existence and is far from reliant upon us. What if we hadn’t developed so many life ways that encourage and allow us forget this important empirical fact?

And yet, this is where we are. Drinking tea at the tilt of the earth invites us to re-weave our modern-encultured consciousness back into the cosmos.

The photograph on smudge studio’s winter solstice and 002019 “holiday card” (part of a series that we have been producing for 15 years) was taken inside the Fowler Dune Shack, located in the Provincelands of Cape Cod’s National Seashore, during our September residency, where we worked on our ongoing Turning into the Night project.

In late-November, we had the good fortune to return to the Sleeve House, designed by our friends at actual / office, and take up Turning into the Night from within a space that seems designed for it. The house is sited in a rural setting near the Hudson Valley, where it escapes nearly all urban light. Poised atop small hill, the structure includes expansive windows that channel light from all directions, affording a heightened awareness of the constantly moving sun and moon, and the ever-changing weather conditions. Despite being solar-powered and insulated to the point that air infiltration is practically zero, the Sleeve House is one of the most “porous” buildings we have inhabited. Our awareness of the expansive landscape remained acute even while residing inside the building. Our stay inspired us to renew our commitment to adapt Turning into the Night to the winter season and to continue learning from the consequential, continuous change that is generated by our planet’s movement.


*sincere thanks to actual / office for making our second micro-residency at the Sleeve House possible.

** all images this post FOP 2018

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