Neo Rio: Pollinators, Plants & People

Invited to be a part of Neo Rio 2016: Pollinators, Plants & People, the Debris Project was integrated into a part of the installation called ADRIFT, which looked at the chemical impacts on pollinators. Neo Rio is an annual arts event hosted by LEAP (Land, Environment & Art of Place) at the Montoso campground in the Wild Rivers Recreation Area in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. LEAP provides opportunities to deepen our appreciation and understanding of and relationship to our environments and our human and non-human neighbors; to increase our commitment to protecting these places and relationships and fostering creative responses and expressions of them in contemporary art and culture.

ADRIFT was installed in the man-made structure of the campsite, which had a view of the Chevron Questa mine. Because mining releases substantial chemicals into watersheds, and chemical body burdens are intimately tied to plastic pollution, this setting was ideal to present the chemical impacts on our watersheds. Included in the installation were post industrial western landscapes of oil refineries in Commerce City & Sinclair Wyoming, as well as an aerial view of the DOW chemical plant in Texas. DEBRIS tiles were hung vertically as flags to withstand the strong winds that whip across the top of the Rio Grande gorge. The images were representations of native pollinating water insects created with Oceans First in Boulder, Colorado during a spring session earlier in the year. Weighting down the flags was a plastic toy dinosaur; a reminder that the source of endocrine disrupting chemicals is fossil fuels.

View from the ADRIFT installation at the Montoso campground towards the Chevron Questa Mine looming in the distance. Chevron is confronted by years of remediation work after the mine recently shut down.
Gaea McGahee explores DEBRIS tiles at night as the Neo Rio event rambles on around the campfire.
Printed matter: preparation of tiles made earlier in the spring by Oceans First students in Boulder, Colorado. The students focused on creating plastic representations of flies found in watersheds throughout the Rocky Mountain West.
Making DEBRIS tiles into vertical hanging flags to withstand the winds that whip across the top of the gorge.
Hanging the flags: weighting down the vertical flags is a reminder of the source of plastic and the chemicals in the form of a plastic toy dinosaur.
Exploring the broader theme of pollination, the works installed in the ADRIFT section included butterflies, here represented as flags hung under a painting of the DOW chemical plant. The butterflies were conveyed as voids to echo the decimation of habitat monarchs are facing now because of heavy use of chemicals in agriculture. The central flag is a re-purposed plastic pro-cor plate created in collaboration with Susanna Mitchell as part of the Monarch project.
Detail of a butterfly flag with degraded plastic filling the void.
A deflated plastic bee balloon was stung up in a dead tree to serve as a flag marking the path between the ADRIFT installation and HOME. The HOME installation was a hands on activity station that explored how pollinators like bees are essential to human nourishment. Providing a solution to the challenges pollinators face now, local wildflower seeds were offered to participants to take home to their own gardens in order to provide habitat for pollinators.

Monterrey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center

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.

Coinciding with the opening of the installation was a featured presentation for the Sanctuary Speaker Series, which further contextualized the local project on an international platform of creative representations of plastic pollution as part of the Debris Project. The Santa Cruz Sentinel’s Kara Guzman wrote an article describing the project; Santa Cruz area children assist with global art exhibit

View of the Debris Project installation through the kelp forest that is installed at the Monterrey Bay Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center as a representation of the local ecology of the Sanctuary
The Debris Project installation alongside the iconic Leatherback sea turtle at the Monterrey Bay Marine Exploration Center

Save Our Shores
Monterrey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Marine Exploration Center

La Vie des Choses – The Life of Things

Exhibition at Processus, Art & Life, Denver
In conjunction with the Biennial of the Americas, Now!

The Debris Project - Photograph by Christopher R. Perez, Processus This tangle of fishing line was collected from the Oregon Coast
The Debris Project – Photograph by Christopher R. Perez, Processus
This tangle of fishing line was collected from the Oregon Coast

From the Press Release:

Processus presents an exhibit of transformed or altered common life objects and materials bringing attention to current issues. Curated by Viviane Le Courtois, artist and co-founder of Processus, the exhibit explores materials and important ideas from our current life and times in conjunction with the Biennial of the Americas’s theme: Now. The exhibit will be up until October 17th, 2015.

Today, superficiality is widespread on social media, in popular places, and in artists studios. It is the journey of a curator to find what matters by sifting through thousands of images online and many studio spaces. How many artists today are affected by the daily news? How many artists communicate what they think or live through art? We are bombarded by meaningless images and words while the world is still evolving and changing everywhere on the planet. But how do we take the news that matter and make objects talk for themselves? The exhibit is a collection of found, altered and assembled objects that inspire social, economical and environmental dialogues through art.

Processus is open Tuesday to Saturday,10 am- 6 pm, by chance or by appointment. For more information about exhibitions, call Viviane Le Courtois at 303 526 8064 or email


Five Biennial-Inspired Exhibitions at Denver Galleries and in the Streets!
By Susan Froyd, Westword, Wednesday, July 15, 2015

“Now!, the 2015 Biennial of the Americas theme, asks the public to be present, eyes wide open, in the immediate world….The member-driven artist workspace Processus will jump into the Now! game a little late, but with no less enthusiasm, with The Life of Things (La Vie des Choses), curated by Denver artist (and Processus co-founder) Viviane Le Courtois. The group show will focus on what’s important in a glib world driven by social media, through a collection of found, altered and assembled objects meant to open conversations about contemporary life.”

Et toi, qu’est-ce que tu vois?

Do you see what I see?

Entry to the exhibition

Château de la Napoule, France

It was La Napoule Art Foundation that initiated the Debris Project by providing the time and space to develop the foundation of the project during a residency that was geared towards creating work with a young audience in mind. The question, ‘Do You See What I See?’ was intended to celebrate the many perspectives through which our age, experiences, and culture inform our creation of and connection to art. Lee Lee was one of seven artists awarded the residency. The creatures she created there were inspired by figurative works sculpted by Henry Clews in the prior century. An unconventional artist for his time, Henry Clews created an amazing array of sculptures, primarily out of stone. Many of his works were integrated into the structure of the Château as he and his wife, Marie, renovated the ancient structure. His work seemed to be inspired by sea life, perhaps because the Château is perched on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. There were strange plankton like creatures swimming across arches, and birds perched atop pillars that would peer down on the artists as we dined in the great hall or walk along the arcades around the courtyards. It was a delight to let his work inspire the sea creatures created there, and it was a perfect place to build the foundation of the Debris project. The proposed Debris Project relied on children’s natural inclination towards animals as well as the fact that children today are particularly in tune with issues which define the world which they will inherit.

Because some of the big issues they face are environmental scarcity, it is a gift for children to be informed about issues like plastic pollution. So that they may take ownership of their future, it is important to engage them on pertinent issues through hands on activity in order to help them develop their voices as they explore how to express their intentions. It is inspiring to see a demonstrated interest in having an impact on the world while they are still young. As adults, we can feel encouraged by the idealism of youth in order to contribute to solving environmental issues that are global in scope. Plastic is a material which transcends our differences and has a tremendous impact on all of us. It is one of the most important materials of our age because we simply do not have the natural resources to support our population without it. However, single use plastics are wreaking havoc on both our health and the environment. It is made from a limited resource, it does not cycle back into the environment which creates an inordinate amount of waste and damage to wildlife, and the chemicals which make up plastic are now linked to some of our biggest health concerns today. Extensive research into the nature of plastic pollution has made it clear that the most promising solutions lay at reducing waste at the source, which means that we need to change the cultural paradigm of how we consume materials like plastic.

In 2014, the work produced during the residency was exhibited at the Château de la Napoule, who invited the artists to incorporate an interactive element to the installation. It was this request that inspired the hands on nature of the installation which then led towards the development of the project as a platform for collaboration. Art is an engaging platform on which to explore creative ideas and solutions to problems that affect us all. Because plastic fills our lives, it is a very familiar material which is often taken for granted. The Debris Project was developed to encourage children to consider this very common material in new ways by paying attention to how we use material in our daily lives. It is important to encourage youth to practice awareness of their own actions in the context of the larger world around them. In doing so, they may feel empowered to incorporate small changes in their own lives which would inspire waves of change in the larger spheres of their families and communities. As a compliment to the formal installation, an important development in the project was the interactive element where children could create their own art works from found plastic objects that would otherwise be laid to waste, with hopes that it would inspire reconsideration in re-purposing materials. From the beginning, the intention was to take the project beyond the scope of this particular residency, by finding ways to integrate an interactive element into educational programming at home and abroad in order to engage children on the subject of plastic. An online presence presents the works created as well as reflections of the processes that evolve in order to build a virtual dialogue around this material which touches us all.

Lee Lee installing the Debris Project at the Chateau de la Napoule, France. Photo by Michael Gadlin
Interactive portion of the Debris Project at the Chateau de la Napoule