There is energy in all things.
We feel it.
We see it.
It exudes from us.
It helps define us.
A universal truth exists here.
We find it in all matter;
in the earth,
It is a force of life,
The seed to be planted in the earth
has always intrigued me;
the stem, the roots, the leaves,
the flower, the fruit
are already present there,
but not to our sight.
A mysterious life force activates it,
an explosion of a living-forming body.
I feel its energy
and try to become a means
to reforming it
through my intuition,
into a new conscious expression
of its being.
Beauty is both victim and beneficiary
that it may create anew.
Artist’s Statement for SEED :: disperse at the Dairy ARTS Center
I seek to challenge our understanding of the relationship between human development and the natural world by documenting the way we use the land.
As a geologist, when I fly over the high plains of eastern Colorado, I look at the many, overlapping layers and how the land has been modified by a combination of processes, both natural and manmade. The lowest layer, the land itself, has been created over literally millions of years and forms the foundation. Draped on top of that is what mankind has imposed in various ways; activities and structure that are collectively called “progress.” While my main interest is the subtle beauty of the landscape itself, I also like to tease out what man has done with that land, and make the viewer wonder what is going on and why. The images are fundamentally aesthetic, but leave you questioning the subject matter.
I have chosen to concentrate on the Eastern plains of Colorado because their subtle beauty illustrates global tensions on a local scale. They are sparsely populated regions of Colorado that are subject to a diverse mix of land use. Vast expanses are given over to raising crops or grazing cattle, which if not carefully managed can decimate the landscape. The newest layer is the energy business, which until recently had only a small presence in the area. But it has been expanding rapidly, encroaching on or even overlaying the agricultural spaces. It is yet unclear if they can all co-exist, and how these changing dynamics will impact the land(scape).
As a culmination for a year’s work where Save Our Shores used the Debris Project as a creative tool in their classroom engagements, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) presented an installation at the Monterrey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center in Santa Cruz, California. In choosing the tiles to be included in the installation, we made sure there was at least one representation from every student who participated in the program. Seeing their works within the larger grouping of tiles from different parts of the world allowed the students to contextualize their works in the wider geographic impacts of plastic pollution.
The installation filled three walls of the central staircase that led up to the hands on installations of the Sanctuary Exploration Center. The representations created by the local students came from a myriad of marine ecologies. In order to incorporate them all, the tiles were grouped into the different ecologies represented. For example, coral seas were a dense grouping in one corner whereas the open ocean was interpreted as a looser grouping in the visually distant upper realm of the tall space.
This is an activity appropriate for young students. A silhouette of a child and a seedling are presented on the same scale. Prompts on how each takes in nutrients are provided, and placed by participants around the appropriate silhouette. Some statements are appropriate for both, so are placed in the middle. Younger students will need assistance in reading the prompts. Early readers may use it as an opportunity to practice reading.
For mobility and ease of storage, the silhouettes may be sewn with felt. The prompts may then be mounted on matte board, with small pieces of Velcro attached to the back. This allows the pieces to be attached easily and moved around.
Give off moisture
I absorb nutrients through my roots
I absorb sunlight through my leaves
I absorb sunlight through my skin
I absorb nutrients from the environment right around me
Seeds provide a thought-provoking platform to explore metaphor, which in turn can provide insight into the importance of seeds. Older students may explore ideas like diversity and migration on a platform of poetry. Younger children benefit from prompts offered by objects they may handle to aid in a conversation about seeds.
The materials used in this activity are flexible and should be chosen to stimulate conversation about the different quality of seeds. Written prompts complement related objects and are housed in a small ‘treasure chest’ or suitcase.
Seeds of commonly available fruits and vegetables are matched with the appropriate fresh produce. An expanded version may include images of the plants growing in the garden and/or seed packets. Seeds may be kept in sectioned boxes or small jars. Vegetables may be festively displayed as arrangements. Students may make labeled grids to guess at which seed came from which fruit. Alternately, they may be lined up with small bowls or labeled cards in front of each.
Good examples for fruit include apple, peach, plum, cherry, citrus, tomato, avocado and mango. Vegetables may include lettuce, carrot, pepper, pumpkin, onion, corn, beans, peas, beets and radish. Mustard seed can be paired with a mustard bottle. This activity incorporates touch through handling the seeds when assigning them to the fresh produce. Taste may also be integrated by sharing the produce as a snack after the activity.
The SEED Sensorium is a multi-sensorial exploration of seeds. Bridging art and science, this series of activities engage the senses in learning about the remarkable world of seeds and their utmost importance in our lives. The activities draw inspiration from the Emilia Reggio philosophy of education which promotes student led, experiential education as the most engaging way to cultivate understanding of the world around us. Participants are encouraged to look through the lens of the seed to explore connections between art and science and their personal connections to the natural world.
Touch me seeds
The breadth of seed forms offer an opportunity to explore the amazing range of seeds. Simply putting together a collection of oddly shaped seeds allow us to explore the incredibly range of textures. Containers of smaller seeds with a range of densities offer an opportunity to immerse our fingers to feel the quality of a mass of seed. Presenting whole seed heads give us a sense of structure.
When vessels are filled with different kinds of seeds, participants may get a good sense of seed density as different seeds make significantly different qualities of sound. The listening station may include seed pods that make sounds as well as traditional rattles made from decorated gourds filled with seeds. Additionally, a series of rattles can be made from repurposed plastic water bottles covered with festive fabrics. Simply glue the fabric around the plastic bottle, leaving a small window at the top of the bottle in order to view the type of seed inside. Cover the fabric with a coat of matte gel medium to protect it and further secure the covering.
The sense of smell may be presented by placing seeds in small glass mason jars with screens screwed to the top. This way, the tops can be easily replaced and they may be stored in a way that the various smells do not intermingle. Culinary spices make perfect smells, as do carrot seeds, radish and coconut.
The taste station can include a wide range of possibility of exploring how seeds are essential to human survival.
Seeds may be tasted directly with popcorn, nuts, roasted pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and culinary spices like cloves, nutmeg or fennel. Cooked whole seeds include millet, rice and beans.
The heirloom preservation portion of the SEED Library offers the opportunity for community members to grow out local varieties of edible plants, while farm to table events featuring seed based recipes completes the cycle around a shared table.
Tracing pizza ingredients back to seed sources
Since all our food essentially comes from seeds, another interesting activity is to trace back the ingredients in pizza, a food with multiple ingredient combinations that is immensely popular with kids. The crust is made from flour, which comes from wheat seed, and vegetables are easily traced back to the seeds from which they grow. Cheese can be traced to milk from a cow who eats grass, which in turn grows from seed.
Seeds leave their parent plant in five ways. Some seeds can be dispersed in more than one way!
The conceptual foundation of SEED was inspired by the book, Seeds: time capsules of life by Wolfgang Stuppy & Rob Kesseler. They focus on the ways rooted plants express mobility, “All seeds have the same purpose — to travel through time and space until they reach the right place at the right moment to create a new plant.” This activity provides an opportunity to test the dispersal methods of seeds in the classroom by setting up testing grounds that mimic the natural environment. There are five ways that seeds disperse & some seeds disperse in more than one way. The prompts below are set up with testing stations: a small fan for wind dispersal, a basin of water to see if seeds float and an earthen bowl for gravity dispersal. For animal dispersal, a piece of wool can be set up to test grip and representations of birds or bears to suggest dispersal through digestion. In the autumn, it is possible to harvest berries and mimic bird digestion in plastic ziplock bags to prepare seeds for sowing while still fresh. Ballistic dispersal may be represented on a small mobile device showing a film clip of an exploding cucumber.
The kind of seeds that are dispersed by wind are often smaller seeds that have wings or other hair-like or feather-like structures. Plants that produce wind blown seeds, like the dandelion or milkweed, often produce lots of seeds to ensure that some of the seeds are blown to areas where the seeds can germinate. Seeds with a honeycomb structure are very light and have increased surface area, making them ideal for being picked up and scattered by the wind.
Animals disperse seeds in several ways. First, some plants like the burr, have barbs or other structures that get tangled in animal fur or feathers, and are then carried to new sites. Other plants produce their seeds inside fleshy fruits that then get eaten by an animal. The fruit is digested by the animal, but the seeds pass through the digestive tract, and are dropped in other locations. Some animals bury seeds, like squirrels with acorns, to save for later, but may not return to get the seed. It can grow into a new plant.
People are animals too! We plant seeds intentionally in our gardens. We also pick them up accidentally on our clothes, shoes, automobiles, airpanes and boats. When we eat seeds, we relocate them through our digestive tract. . . just like other animals.
Gravity is a simple way for plants to disperse their seeds. The effect of gravity on heavier fruits and nuts causes them to fall from the plant when ripe plants that use this kind of dispersal include apples, coconuts and passion fruit. Those with harder shells, like almonds or coconuts often roll away from the plant to gain further distance. Gravity dispersal can also be followed by water or animal dispersal.
The seeds that use water as a method of dispersal are usually quite light, buoyant, and some have hairs or fluff that allow them so stay afloat. Many of these types of seeds are protected by water proof coverings so they can float for long periods of time. The coconut is a great example of a seed that uses water dispersal; it can be transported by ocean currents to completely different continents!
Self-dispersal, or autochory, is the explosive discharge of seeds from the fruit. The seeds are typically squirted from the fruit tissue by first being squeezed, then released. Often the fruits are shaped so that seeds are flung away from the parent plant as with “Touch me nots” and exploding cucumbers.
An alternative to this activity may be performed in the field using indigenous plants that would augment the existing plant community found on site. In this case, it is very important to make sure the seeds being tested belong in the place they are being tested!
Reflections by Emma Gabriel,
Art Director for Art Relief International
Chiang Mai, Thailand
When Lee Lee first approached us about Debris I got really excited about the ecology and the message of her international project. Aiming to teach about the global impacts of single use plastic on not only the environment but on us as humans, her logic is to bring the message to youth. They are the young questioning and open minds of the future who will help us to unveil just how harshly this material is affecting everything. Lee Lee collects images of the pieces that have been created and continues to set up interactive installations at galleries and educational institutions around the world to bring awareness to the cause.
While she was doing a residency in Chiang Mai, we got the chance to meet with her and learn more about Debris. During our first workshop with her, we also learned that she keeps the art making process very open ended. She first teaches about how marine life are suffering from ingesting toxins from the plastic, which then translates to chemical burdens in land dwelling animals and humans. Once the participants have understood this, she asks them to create a piece of art inspired by these teachings. She brings along bottle caps, straws, and other forms of plastic that she has collected in Chiang Mai, making the project very localized. Usually, she says, she allows the student to collect used plastic from their homes during a specific time period for them to really understand the amount of plastic that we actually use. Another important material she encourages for this project is fused plastic bags that make a stronger plastic and can look quite beautiful. She teaches older students how this process works and encourages them to use their creativity to find beauty in this so called waste.
After collaborating with Lee Lee at Wat Meun Neun Kong during our weekly visit to host a drop in after school arts class, we could see that this project could raise a lot of awareness about the use of plastic. I come from North America, where plastic usage is beginning to be understood and it’s common for people to use their own bags for groceries, and to use a stronger bottle to carry water instead of buying something off the shelf, among other things. But in places like Thailand there isn’t a lot of awareness about the usage of plastic and every trip to a 7/11 or a street food vendor means you’ll collect more than one plastic bag before getting the chance to say you don’t want a bag in the first place, not to mention all the wrapping and packaging of each item. The awareness just isn’t there. So we tried to bring the project to all of the public schools we work with in Chiang Mai including Wat Pa Pao, Wat Kuang Sing, and Wat Ku Kam hoping that we could bring some awareness to them in a creative way.
The students all responded very positively to the process. They seemed to get inspiration from all the plastic and focused intently on their pieces. Because of the ever changing nature of the ocean, Lee Lee allows the students to combine different materials in different ways without glueing them down. We tried to be quick with our cameras to catch some of the interesting creations that the students experimented with.
Once we had reached out to the students, we sent the photos to Lee Lee for her to rework them. We had the opportunity to include the Debris project in our annual exhibition so we showcased the photos outside of a large metal framed bottle filled with plastic (all collected from what we used at our office). This was such a collaborative piece that so many people got to be a part of and we are so happy to have been able to bring this project to the community in such a way.
We also got the chance to work with John and the kids from the Stratton ABC foundation who were working on their own very special version of the project. The kids came up with the idea to create a plastic demon made solely out of plastic. When we arrived to give them a hand they were just finishing this step and were looking for ways to keep him strong and supported. We added some wire to secure his body to a chair and his head to his body and when we returned the second time, Chevy the demon had skin and a face and he was alive and well. We all painted his environment outside on one of the foundation’s walls where he is emerging from the flames of a plastic landfill, ready to warn us about the dangers of plastic.
A big thank you to Lee Lee for reaching out to us here in Chiang Mai.
We hope the project continues to educate and inspire people to make a change, daily.
With the upcoming move of Japan’s largest fish market from Tsukiji to a new site in Toyosu in November 2016, certain practices will change. The market will be more closed to the public, and it is important to consider what it means to take certain practices out of the public eye. In this case, it is the wasteful consumption of polystyrene or ‘Styrofoam’. The Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo was likely one of the most sublime markets in the world. I left there wondering how there was a living fish left in the ocean when considering the immensity of the commerce that happened there on a daily basis. To experience it in full swing, it was vital to go early. Officially, tourists weren’t allowed in the market until after 9am, but by then the vendors had finished the bulk of their business for the day. I attended the market in the summer of 2014 when it was in its final active years. Swimming with the flow of market goers from the Tsukijishijo station on the Oedo metro line I found my way in at 4:30am. Embedding myself in the tight weave of alleyways, it was a good couple of hours of meandering through stalls, photographing the Styrofoam towers of fish on ice before emerging into a larger alleyway and being nabbed by a guard as an obvious outsider. It was that point that I was flushed out with the tidal wave of Styrofoam that keeps the fish ‘fresh’.
One reason the market is being moved is to ‘control’ visits by outsiders. I’m certain that vendors tired of the foreigners who found their way in gawking in awe at the scale of the market. There has been more than a bit of harping in the realm of overfishing and species depletion, which is a just concern. However, for an island culture steeped in traditions defined by the sea, the prideful Japanese are in no mind to take such criticisms. Traditional food culture is important to maintain, and I certainly enjoyed a breakfast of sashimi in a retro sushi bar aside the market that morning. Treated as a once in a lifetime experience, I am happy to have had that quintessential Tokyo meal despite my concern for consuming depleted fish stocks. It was the most delicious sushi I’ve tasted, so my overall consumption of it since then has since declined.
What really confounded me was the massive amount of Styrofoam that grew into mountains before it was taken away with front loaders and dump trucks. Occasionally a lone scavenger could be found piecing together a set to re-use, but the vast bulk of it is loaded into trucks bound for…? Who knows where? My guess is the incinerator as polystyrene is listed as ‘burnable’. In this case, it releases toxins we consume through our lungs. There are some feeble attempts at ‘recycling’, but as far as I understand, no plastic is truly ‘recyclable’, it is only down-cycled into products that serve a limited useful life…and the material still stays around for a very long time. Best practice is to use less from the start. Unfortunately the fish trade will be a little less visible in the public eye, so we will have a hard time assessing if the overuse of polystyrene is curbed in the near future.
It was actually in Japan that a vital component to marine debris toxicity research was accomplished. Hideshige Takada, from the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology found that plastic debris floating in Tokyo’s harbor absorbed persistent organic pollutants up to millions of times the concentration than in the ambient waters that surrounded the material. This eventually led to understanding how they are intricately tied to endocrine disrupting chemicals that persist in the oceans, to which all of our chemical us drain. They then enter the marine food web by de-sorbing into the flesh of marine life that consumes it, and biomagnify as they move up the food chain. He founded the International Pellet Watch to gauge how toxic waters are in various parts of the world, incorporating a widespread citizen science effort which engaged the span of impacted communities on a scientific platform. His is an interesting method in that he has figured out how to use solid pollution to measure invisible toxicity. Understanding the links between solid plastic pollution and chemical contamination allows us to realize how this is a personal issue, intricately tied to our health, not simply an eyesore floating across a distant sea.