March 29th: SEED Swap & Scion Exchange MOFGA Common Ground Education Center, 10am – 4pm Installation of the SEED Sensorium & dispersal of Native Grasses Join us for the 3rd year of installing the SEED Sensorium, pick up seed saving information and native grass seed to support habitat for pollinators. Find us in the alcove, next to the exchange.
April 4th: Master Gardener Symposium: Gear Up for Gardening Moore Center, 12:30 – 4:30-5pm Creative Frameworks for SEED Dispersal ~ Lee Lee Working at the intersection of art and ecology, Lee Lee will present her methodology in cultivating creative frameworks for public engagement around wild land restoration. Material will include cultivating networks of living SEED libraries, SEED Sensoria, HugelCULTURE and following seasonal rhythms to respond to specific attributes of place in culturally relevant ways. Other workshops include: Grow your best Veggies by Marjorie Poronto of the Master Gardeners Extension program, Grow your best raspberries by David Handley, UMaine, Biodiversity by Reeser Manley, Creating a community garden, Edible Millbridge, and Improving soils by Paul and Karen Volkhausen of Happytown Farm.
April 4th: Sweetgrass talk with Carol Dana Part of the Blue Hill Heritage Trust’s winter lecture series
May 9th 1 – 3pm Garden Day at the Blue Hill Heritage Trust Learn what native seeds may be sown in spring and collect native grass seeds to take home and plant for pollinators. A workshop on composting will be presented by master gardener, Zabet NeuCollins.
May 23rd 9am – noon Blue Hill Public Library Plant Sale Find SEED under the apple tree as we disperse spring sown native grasses and wild mint along with sipping tea and drawing pollinators who benefit from these meadow plants
The above events cancelled or postponed due to COVID 19
May 23rd 2-4pm (rain date May 24) Mapping the Labyrinth Meadow workshop at Tapley Farm As a community, we will map out the geometric path that will be maintained at Tapley Farm in Brooksville as a collaboration between the Tent Project, the Open Air Arts Initiative and SEED :: disperse. The labyrinth will offer a platform on which to creatively explore our relationship with the meadow landscape. Challenging the dominant local mowing practice of severing this important part of local ecology, this event kicks off a series of workshops to educate people on how to maintain meadows in ways that best support the pollinator and bird communities that are essential to healthy natural systems.
May 30 Alewife Festival at Pierce Pond Join the Penobscot Alewife Committee, the Blue Hill Heritage Trust & SEED to celebrate the maturing landscape around the restored fish ladder into Pierce Pond. Learn about the plants that make up shoreline communities and the network of life supported by them.
July 25th 2-4pm (rain date July 26) Embodying the Landscape: Walking the Labyrinth We invite the community to walk the labyrinth with intention as we explore the plant communities that make up the meadow at the Tapley Farm. We will speak of how important it is to hold off on mowing our meadows until November by paying attention to the teaming life that fills the maturing meadow. We will think about the localized movement of pollinators as they weave their way through the landscape and think about the shelter provided by tall grasses for seed dispersers who call the meadow home. Open source images of the network of life that abounds in meadows will be available for creative exploration through words, movement and drawing.
August 22nd 10a-4pm Blue Hill Maritime Festival Discover the colonial medicine chest and tea gardens at the Pendleton House with the establishment of a new SEED library dedicated to preserving these heirlooms brought to Maine from across the sea.
October 3rd 2-4pm (rain date October 4) Meadow Restoration workshop at Tapley Farm We will look at techniques for restoring meadows for the final event in the Labyrinth series in collaboration with the Tent Project and the Open Air Arts Initiative. Thinking about the transformation from flower to seed, we will look at the community of seed eating birds who are supported by mature meadows as they migrate south for the winter. We invite people to wait until November to mow so as not to disrupt this important food source for the birds. Autumn is the best time for planting plugs and we will share techniques on how to best introduce native plants to meadow environments to broaden the diversity of what is growing around us.
Katelyn Alexis + Getho Jean Baptiste + Wesner Bazile + Rossi Jacques Casimir + Noel Edgard aka Papouche + Lee Lee + Mimi Sheller + moira williams
We are exploring historic connections between Maine and Haiti with a series of workshops and performances; looking at the entangled mobilities between plant-human and non-human relationships held sacred by indigenous communities. We will consider the role plants played through the Haitian revolution and how plant-based practices in both geographies may inform each other as we navigate our way through food sovereignty, sacred/medicinal relationships and rewilding efforts. We are interested in counterpractices that push against industrial agriculture and hybrid seeds.
I :: White Pines from Dawnland The tall, straight trunks of Maine’s white pine trees were marked and severed from the landscape by French settlers to build ships that carried lumber to Haiti. Hawthorn trees were equally struck from the land, stripped of their thorns then used as nails in the same ships to Haiti (Hawthorne is resistant to rot unlike pine). Both Pine and Hawthorne trees carry sacred/medicinal relationships with indigenous people. Additionally, both trees were used to construct plantations that in turn, served as frameworks against which the Haitian revolution took place. Our project begins with tracing the ghosts of White Pine and Hawthorn trees. We will travel rural areas to find their traces, look at the functional differences between in-tact plantation grounds versus fragmented land passed down equally through generations of families after the revolution. We will connect these ghosts to the sacred/medicinal microgardens found in the pots and doorways of Port-Au-Prince through recorded conversations, knowledge sharing and movement.
II :: Mountains beyond Mountains The indigenous Arawak people met the first free Africans in Ayiti (Haiti), during the 1800’s. Ayiti means ‘mountains beyond mountains’ an expression from and of the land. Both cultures recognized one another’s interconnected, sacred relationships with the land. As a result, the Arawak shared their knowledge of the land and the medicinal qualities found in Haiti’s endemic plants with the Africans. Plant, food and soil knowledge continues to be cultivated, interwoven with multiple cultural nuances, as interventions of restoration and liberation throughout the tightest corners of urban Port-Au-Prince. These same plants are grown in microgardens around the Grand Rue.
III :: Control Moringa trees provided Haitians
essential nutrients during the petrol revolts this year. Moringas were
brought to Haiti from Africa as seeds and thrive in areas where little
else can grow. We will plant more Moringa trees, save their seeds to
establish a nutrient dense Grand Rue – if you control food, you control
Confronting the failures of our work in the previous biennales, we
will install a functioning SEED library at SAKALA. They have the
capacity for preservation and are interested in seed saving due to food
security threats from hybridization. Informed by the progress of SEED
work in Maine with the Halcyon Grange and Blue Hill Heritage Trust, we
will call on Haitian organizations to maintain a preservation ring.
Potential SEED library branches AJDHVD network of school gardens,
Minister of the Environment, Botanic Gardens, SOIL & Lambi Fund farmer networks.
IV :: Restoration In response to concerns that urban youth are being severed from the land, traditional plant, soil, health and cultural knowledge, we will weave aspects of re-wilding into our SEED work to promote a whole-body ecologic revolution. We will do this with seed saving workshops and a combined art, citizen science, movement workshops in the Grand Rue and SAKALA (SAKALA has a “wild” field). We will provide a school bus and invite the Grand Rue TiMoun to participate.
Because of the revolts over the course of 2019, we decided to elongate this effort by drawing out programming to support workshops on a month to month basis. We started with open source images of Ruby-throated hummingbirds & cedar waxwings printed for the installation for the 2019 Biennial. Both birds are considered ‘accidental migrants’ from the northeast. The woodworking community that makes up Lakou Basile are carving representations of these photographs on a workshop platform with neighborhood youth to learn relationships of flowers with pollinating hummingbirds & fruit dispersal through birds. The woodblocks will be sent to the SEED Barn and used to demonstrate printing techniques of Ukiyo-e style of woodblock printing during the 2020 season. In hopes this exchange ignites consideration of the ecologic and historic geographic relationships we maintain with lands which host migratory wildlife enjoyed throughout the Maritime region during the summer.
Join the Penobscot Alewife Committee, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Blue Hill Heritage Trust and Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries for the 2nd Annual Bagaduce Alewife Celebration!
Saturday, May 18th, 11am – 3pm Pierce Pond in Penobscot
Learn about the native plant restoration work being done at Pierces with the SEED Barn & Blue Hill Heritage Trust.
Demonstrations on sowing native seeds, transplanting seedlings and providing habitat will compliment an art installation of cast paper butterflies. The public is invited to participate in this community restoration project by learning about the ecologies along the land water interface. Add your voice by composing messages to wildlife who use this passage, and bring home an assortment of native grass seeds to plant in your own yard!
Guided tours of future restoration locations will take place on on Parker Pond (9:30am) and Walkers Pond (1pm)
Explore the Water! Catch alewives to make observations, view a freshwater fish observation tank, taste smoked fish, and much more! There will even be a Virtual Reality set up so you can “swim with the fishes” through Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries!
For more information, please contact Blue Hill Heritage Trust at 374-5118 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Participate in the Community Restoration of Pierce Pond through March by sowing native seeds specific to the river and lakeshore plant communities observed around Pierce Pond and gathered from the research in the Natural Landscapes of Maine guide published by the Maine Heritage Fund. Seeds are best sown at home, and we invite community members to establish some in their home gardens and sow some to share with the restoration project.
The Great Maine Outdoors Weekend encourages people to get outside! This year, the Blue Hill Heritage Trust is working with Lee Lee of the SEED Barn on a participatory sculpture that will be woven directly into the landscape in the Kingdom Woods Conservation Area. Part of the Open Air Arts Initiative, this arts workshop invites community members to collaborate on a sculpture that will provide winter shelter for birds, aesthetically integrating material from young oak trees that were recently cleared to preserve the heirloom blueberry field. Extending the flow of existing natural forms which stand prominently in the landscape, participants will weave the branches together, keeping in mind the space needed by bunnies to burrow and birds to flutter. In the process, contributors can explore ways we may integrate organic detritus offer winter protection for resident species in a way that piques visual interest. The Open-Air Arts Initiative is a collaboration between the SEED Barn, Blue Hill Heritage Trust and Cynthia Winings Gallery. Its mission is to use nature to ignite creativity in the young people who live on or visit the Blue Hill Peninsula.
Drawing inspiration from the land immersed arts movement of the west, Lee Lee has been bringing a new kind of community arts practice to the Blue Hill Peninsula. Working with only materials found on site, she has invited the public to work together in weaving sculptures through the landscapes around the Blue Hill Peninsula. Through the spring, she collaborated with local students to build sculptural pollinator homes. As the season transitions into fall, she is working with the wider community on ways we may increase habitat for birds through the series birdSEED.
Sculpting branches that we trim out of the garden challenges the popular but somewhat misplaced notion that tidy yards are superior. In fact, tangles of woody brush are essential habitat for birds, small mammals as well as pollinators. Downeast Audubon director, Leslie Clapp describes ways we may creatively incorporate winter protection for resident birds into our domestic spheres at home; “Building brush piles is fun and you can be as creative as you wish. Some look like tepees, some porcupines, others bee hives. You can plant vines which cover them for more interest. Sometimes I put a base of logs (in log cabin style) and then weave the sticks in through the logs so they stand upright. The major thing is not to pack them too tightly so the critters can’t get in. I keep adding to some year after year because they do break down.”
Complementing the weaving of thicket style shelter for the birds, ongoing seasonal workshops hosted by the SEED barn demonstrate how to ferment and sow fresh native stone fruit seeds. Native species like wild cherries, elderberry, mountain ash and an array of viburnum and dogwoods not only feed the birds but provide important nectar sources for pollinators in the early spring. Because fruit is an inhibitor to seed germination, it needs to be cleaned off thoroughly; as if it has passed through the gut of a bird, bear or moose. The process of mimicking bird digestion is easily replicated at home by smashing a bunch of fruit to a pulp in a Ziploc bag. Over the course of about ten days, mashing the bag daily, the bubbles of fermentation form in the macerated fruit then settle. At this point, the seeds may be cleaned by immersing them in fresh water, massaging any remaining fruit off the seed, swirling the pulp in a bowl of water and pouring off the macerated fruit. Viable seeds will sink in the vortex of the swirl, while the fruit will be picked up by the current and easily poured off. These seeds cannot dry out, so need to be planted fresh. They may be stored immersed in vermiculite in the same plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator until the season shifts; then planted right before the ground freezes.
Supported in part by a project grant from the Maine Arts Commission, birdSEED will continue the following week with a public workshop on taming invasive bittersweet and barberry at the Blue Hill Consolidated School on September 29th.
Two years after installing pocket gardens in the previous biennial, we examined the gardens of the Grand Rue to assess which plants thrived. We used what we learned in growing plants in a heavily populated area of the city to apply what worked to the areas that did not fare as well. We found that trees fared the best, and that joumou (the local pumpkin) can easily trail along rooftops. At our workshops, we share a meal with joumou, then plant seeds with the youth who in turn tend the seedlings and in time have a product to sell or trade which supports food security. In response to an aggressive program to hybridize Haitian heirloom seeds, we started weaving a network of SEED Stewards across the urban areas of Port Au Prince in order to preserve open source access to traditional seed stock while providing a continued connection to the natural world for urban youth. The Biennial installation included the development of a SEED Sensorium created in collaboration with local youth as well as a collaborative installation with Jean Claude Santillus curated from seed related art works created by members of the Atis Rezistans collective.
The effective revolutionary approach of the Lakou, Vodou and Kreyol have much to offer a wider discourse on preserving traditional farming practices in the face of monumental threats from industrial agriculture. Drawing from the historical importance of agriculture in Haiti, the Sacred Soil project will consist of small permaculture gardens to cultivate nourishment at neighborhood scale. Built from locally sourced materials, oil barrels and tires will be collaboratively transformed into sculpted vessels for the garden containers. They will be installed through the urban Lakou, paired with catchment systems developed to take advantage of intermittent heavy rainfall in order to provide constant access to water so the gardens may be sustained. Working with the most common ingredients used in traditional recipes I gathered while working with grandmothers during the 2013 Ghetto Biennial, planned companion planting will be developed to make high density use of the small spaces. Seeds will be sourced in local markets in Port-Au-Prince, and on the farms where we will also gather soil in a way that supports biodynamic and traditional farming practices of the rural Lakou. Rounding out the project will be a celebratory feast of Tchaka for Lwa Azaka, the well-loved god of agriculture.
Initiated during the 4th Ghetto Biennial, members of the Atis Rezistans artist collective worked with Lee Lee to establish a seed library, plant the foundation for the canopy of an edible urban food forest and build pocket sized permaculture gardens scaled to fit the small, tangled footpaths that meander through the Redzone along the Grand Rue in downtown Port-Au-Prince. The project won first place for foreign artists in the People’s Choice Awards, and the gardens continue to thrive.
Jake Nussbaum & Richard Arthur Flemming produced a multilingual segment on the project for Clocktower Radio as part of Geto Byenal: Radyo Shak which explored how collaborations may effectively work despite differences in spoken language.
Moringa trees, which provide a nutrient dense green are sourced from Sakala, the urban community garden in Cite Soleil.
Chocogout, or Maya Nut trees are being reintroduced to the island as a
reforestation project in the severely desertified southeast region by Sadhana Forest. They contributed a set of trees to plant in the Grand Rue neighborhood during a visit to their program.
The Grow Haiti Seed Collection promoted through Baker Creek Heirloom seeds supports heirloom preservation and seed sovereignty efforts by the Lambi Fund. As part of the next phase of this project, we are collaborating with growers in the US to establish a seed library, which will allow us to return heirloom seeds to collaborators in Haiti. Contact Lee Lee to participate.
Surface Arts Collaborative residency at the Rumpueng Community Artspace
Chiang Mai, Thailand
It is said that Thai people touch the earth lightly, like butterflies. Indeed as a visitor, I was greeted with nothing but the utmost of grace. As I explored the corners of Chiang Mai, however, I noticed a flurry of plastic bags fluttering in the wind like butterfly wings. This material is anything but light in its environmental impact.
I was in Thailand specifically looking at the way plastic is used and misused as part of the Debris Project, a collaborative art installation built from an international response to the health and environmental impacts of plastic. With the recognition that plastic is an important material because we don’t have the natural resources to support out population without it, we focus on the environmental havoc wreaked by single use plastic. As a resident at the Rumpueng Community Arts Space, I had the opportunity to connect with local creatives and work with an array of students through the efforts of Katie Jade Hawker and Pitchaya at Surface Arts as part of their residency program which hosted artists making collaborative works. There was an installation of the artwork made in Thailand at the Rumpueng gallery space from 23-30 October. The project has been carried on by Art Relief International, who hosted an installation of the project as a culmination of their participation at Thapae East on November 6th.
A primary focus of the Debris Project is to share solution oriented stories about how people in different places are acting to reduce plastic pollution. During my city excursions, I was delighted to see the filter water stations installed regularly through town. Understandably, plastic bottle consumption is growing fastest in areas where the tap water is not safe to drink. The network of water refill stations that has been established in Thailand is a viable solution to overcome the waste produced in what has become a conventional bottled water system. Culturally, the overconsumption of single use plastic de-values this important material, which has caused devaluation of material worth. The recycling centers that line the canal road south of town have established a good way of maintaining the value of raw material. It was inspiring to see so much material sorted through and actively streaming back into use.
The other impressive part of the community around Chiang Mai are the children. The next generation is very much in tune with the issue of plastic pollution because they care about a clean environment and about animals. The work they made for the Debris Project expresses their concern and is an important reminder that according to Dr. Edward Hume, the largest legacy we are leaving to the next generation is quite literally trash. I don’t like thinking of my son inheriting an impossible amount of garbage, and have found most parents would agree. We are getting sick from the chemicals from which plastic is made, as well as by chemicals absorbed by plastic when both enter marine environments. In addition to a myriad of degenerative illness, one of the biggest impacts of these endocrine disrupting chemicals is infertility. The impacts are trans-generational meaning that when I’m exposed to the toxins carried by plastic, it is my son and grandchildren who bear the health impacts. The issues around plastic pollution are far more than just aesthetic.
The Debris Project acts as a tool to educate communities about plastic pollution. So far, it has engaged participation from collaborators across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the Caribbean, Mediterranean and North seas as well as Himalayan and Rocky Mountain headwaters. The pieces of the installation are created through hands on workshops as part of educational programming integrated into schools and hosted by environmental organizations. We worked with children from across the region and found they were incredibly resourceful when it came to re-appropriating plastic as a material to come up with new uses for this material that would have been discarded. The children at the Schools of Hope, who are primarily Shan refugees from across the Myanmar border, don’t have access to a lot of toys. When they learned they were free to do anything with the materials, many of them made themselves new toys like cars out of plastic bottles. While the primary focus of the Debris Project is to create representations of marine life integrating plastic, inventive repurposing of material by any creative means is also encouraged. We are constantly exploring how we can continue to cultivate the concern and resourcefulness demonstrated by the children in these kinds of communities.
The Project is strengthened by collaborators who take the idea and run with it. The kids at the Stratton ABC Foundation decided to make a plastic bottle demon who will migrate around the city to raise awareness to plastic pollution. Art Relief will build a culmination of their workshops in the form of a giant plastic bottle, which carries on a ‘Message in a Bottle’ theme that has been manifested in different ways in various geographies. From a performance in the British Virgin Islands to an installation at the Denver Aquarium by marginalized immigrant youth to a project by high school students from the Bay Area in California, youth around the world are sending the message to reduce plastic waste.
Both installations will include the plastic demon created by the Stratton ABC children, and integrate images that were created during area workshops interspersed with images gathered from around the world to reflect the universal nature of plastic pollution issues. As integrated into the local programming and engaging installations, this collaboration presented solutions on how Chiang Mai may join the movement to leaving the next generation a world with a little less plastic.
Aragorn is a sculptor who has made a series of large iron vessels that he installed over the shallow waters in front of his workshop, which is laid out along the beach in Trellis Bay, just off Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. During full moon celebrations and for the New Year, he lights bonfires within his sculpted vessels. The Debris Project inspired him to come up with a performance piece which would ultimately act as a message in a bottle from the sea about plastic pollution during his New Years gathering. As the large crowd gathered on his beach looking across the twinkling bay in anticipation of the celebratory fires, hundreds of glowing plastic bottles washed ashore at their feet just before the sculptures burst into flames. As an unanticipated but welcome end to the action, local kids swarmed the beach to pick up every one of the bottles. Their beach clean concluded the event on a hopeful note as the next generation acted as stewards for the beach. Island music and revelry ensued.
The project worked effectively because as sailors, we were able to deduce the direction of the wind so that we made sure the bottles hit their target, and did not add to ocean debris. Repurposing the bottles further, Aragorn used the bottles as padding to pack the ceramic works that are shipped out from his workshop. He makes this a regular practice; collecting used plastic bottles from his neighbors’ cafes and using them as packing material for his creative works.
A few months later in Denver, the arts educator Kristen Heeres drew inspiration from this tale to develop a creative project inspired by the event. She worked with her 4th graders at Holm Elementary, a school which serves a largely immigrant population. They made representations of marine life which they inserted into plastic bottles. She took the series and installed them at the Denver Aquarium, who then invited the students to view their installation and gave them a tour of the marine installations. This invitation allowed them access to the bus for a field trip, a rare opportunity for a cash strapped public school. Their tour exposed them the large tanks filled with the marine life they had studied as part of the project. Most of them did not have the capacity to afford a $27 entry fee, so it was their first direct exposure to marine life. They left in awe, inspired to integrate action into their daily choices around material use and waste reduction. The Debris Project works most effectively when it gives communities access to experiential learning demonstrated here.
The stories of how plastic bottles were used to convey messages about plastic pollution then migrated across the Pacific to Chiang Mai, where Art Relief International presented a culmination of their Debris Project programming in the form of a large bottle. Having worked with schools across greater Chiang Mai, they used the Debris Project tiles as a skin for a large bottle, which they filled with plastic discarded from their offices. As a poignant reflection of their internal use of plastic, the sculpture allowed the organization to recognize how they were using the material. The bottle was installed at Thapae East in Central Chiang Mai. Arts director, Emma Gabriel says that she intends to continue to integrate the repurposing of discarded plastic as a primary material in their future programming.
Even as Debris exists on a platform of technology and mechanical reproduction, the work maintains a handmade quality through the collaborative process. In order to keep the participation accessible at a distance, participants e-mail digital files to be included in the project. Makers may share their work without the expense of shipping physical pieces. It also allows makers to keep their original works intact. When ‘released into the ocean’ the images become open to transformation in the spirit of collaboration. The collaborative process echoes the processing of material in the ocean. The pieces are copied, distressed, reworked, torn and mended by participants. The transfer technique is purposefully imperfect. The creatures attain a rubbed out look, or have missing parts so that their appearance echoes of the corporeal impacts of plastic. Without relying on the sensational but disturbing images of entangled wildlife, this part of the process offers a representation of the disintegration of the species. As pieces are reworked then photographed, the images are unavoidably degraded and the creatures obtain a blurred appearance. This blurring effect reflects the undulating quality within marine environments and bring an element of depth when interspersed with sharper images. In actual marine environments, growth stems out of decay. Balancing the destructive process inherent in the transfer process, are acts of creation and mending. This part of the process is about preservation; it is a symbolic representation which help us arrive at an awareness that we may bring to the everyday decisions around our consumption of over-packaged products.
There is often a misconception about ocean ‘garbage patches’ being enormous floating islands made up of trash. No matter what material they are made of, large floating objects are essential components in open ocean ecosystems. The reality of the plastic in the ocean is far worse; they consist of vast swaths of confetti sized plastic debris which is impossible to recover. The structure of the Debris installation is made up of small pieces to reflect the nature of the way plastic breaks down in the ocean gyres. Plastic is a material that photo-degrades, it breaks down into smaller and smaller bits, but it never cycles back into the environment. It eaten by fish and sea birds, which is fatal because the animals feel full but are not nourished and end up starving to death. Worse yet, it is an entry point for endocrine disrupting chemicals to be absorbed into the marine food web.
Taking a reductive approach, Debris does not impose any kind of educational ‘model’ onto situations of engagement. Instead, it is designed to be a flexible tool which may be used to fit the needs of an institution, and remains open to cultural and creative interpretations. As long as the work follows the overall concept which addresses the impacts of plastic, collaborators are free to use it in a way that benefits their programs or practice.
Largely geared towards youth, the Debris collaboration is a hands on way for young people to learn about the impact of plastic while contributing to solution building. Participants arrive at solutions by learning about alternatives to the convenience oriented culture that produces excessive amounts of waste through becoming aware of the impact on ecologies, cultures and our health. Only in the last couple of generations have we shifted towards a ‘throw away’ culture, so it is possible to reframe cultural attitudes towards valuing materials made from a limited resource within a similar timespan. In order to address misplaced cultural notions of disposability, it is necessary to encourage a reconsideration toward waste at an early age. Children are essential partners in environmental activism as they carry the issues to the hearts of their families. Beyond their roles as messengers, the quality of their marks adds a dynamic quality to the overall installation.
Diatoms & Microplastics
Debris is an educational tool which may be used in a way that may complement a specific institutional focus. For example, the University of Colorado in Boulder has a departmental focus on the study of diatoms. Diatoms are single celled organisms that make up the vast fields of plankton which serve as the foundation of the marine food web. Ocean plankton provides half of the earth’s oxygen and captures half of our carbon, so it is essential for supporting life on this planet. We can’t clean up plastic without also removing the plankton. During a family activity day hosted by the Museum of Natural History at the University, participants created a host of diatoms to release into the Debris installation. It is an important contribution because plastic immersed in fields of diatoms are a trigger point for some of the worst impacts of plastic pollution.
Emerging research by institutions like the Marine Environmental Research Institute (MERI) in Blue Hill, Maine, are looking at the ecological impacts of microplastics; plastic debris that are small enough to blend in with plankton so that they become easy to consume by small marine organisms. These pieces are photo-degraded from of larger pieces of plastic, or are released as plastic microbeads, which are commonly used in cosmetics like facial cleansers, and shed from material like polar fleece when it is laundered. Chelsea Rochman is a marine biologist who is currently looking at the high concentrations of chemicals which absorb easily into the material of plastic, and how they desorb into the flesh of the marine life who eats it. The chemicals are fat loving. Plastic is made from oil, which is essentially a fat, and can absorb chemicals that are millions of times more concentrated than ambient levels within the surrounding waters. When consumed by marine life, these chemicals desorb into the flesh of the marine life, is stored in their fat, becoming more concentrated every time they are consumed. As the chemicals desorb into the flesh of marine life, the animals experience hormonal changes that disrupt the capacity for life to breed by causing infertility. Chemicals are invisible, but in the Debris installation plastic serves as a symbolic representation of the chemicals that are harbored within by integrating the material into the corporeal structure of marine creatures.
Message in a Bottle
Not only is the project open to a range of institutional appropriations, it embraces diverse expressions from creatives as well. Aragorn has a beach front workshop on Trellis Bay near Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. During his last New Year gathering, he was inspired by Debris to execute an art action that presented a message from the ocean about plastic pollution. After enjoying Caribbean music and feasting, a large crowd gathered on his beach in anticipation of fires being lit within Aragorn’s large scaled iron sculptures which are installed in the shallow waters just off his beach. As the crowd waited, peering across the dark waters, hundreds of glowing plastic bottles washed ashore at their feet. The sculptures then burst into flame. A group of island children ran across the beach collecting the bottles in an unexpected and satisfying end to the creative action.
Kristin Heres is an arts educator who built a variation of Debris with the students at Holm Elementary in Denver, CO. Inspired by Message in a Bottle performed by Aragorn in the British Virgin Islands, she came up with a way to use the project as a means to provide the opportunity for these students to connect with marine ecology at the Denver Aquarium. The class made representations of marine life and placed them in plastic PET bottles for display at the aquarium. Holm Elementary is an underfunded public school which serves a population who lives on the fringes of the city. Families there don’t have the luxury to spend money on tickets to the aquarium. However, because their work was installed at the aquarium, the class got permission to take a field trip to see it. The aquarium staff gave them a tour, which was the first direct experience with live marine animals for many of these students. The experience left them in awe. In order to cultivate a concern for the environment, it is important that people feel a connection to the natural world. When this project helps inspire youth to feel this kind of connection, then it is considered a success.
The collaboration is a gathering of concerned voices from all over the world, around issues to which we are universally exposed. One reason there is no ‘model’ that accompanies this piece is so that the work may maintain an authenticity to the contributing voices. It remains open and inclusive of a wide range of cultural interpretation. For example, there is no other place than Haiti that could offer an authentic representation of the Vodoun Lwa, Boussou, the god protector of the seas. The strength of this project lay in gathering a wide range of cultural ‘voices’ around a single material that has become pervasive in the waters that connect us. Over the next year, the open ended project will travel to the land of a thousand lakes in Minnesota, on to Maui, Thailand and back around to Ireland in order to continue widening the geographies that make up this project.
Makers keep originals, and collaborators keep alterations they have made. Small groupings of the installation are left with collaborative organizations so that the the physical work is as dispersed as the contributions that have been made to the work. As a conceptual element to the work, this dispersal is a reflection of the widespread dispersal of the actual debris.
In addition to the physical installation and workshops that engage communities on the ground, the website, www.virtualvoices.org serves as a central nexus to the Debris project. Specific engagements are detailed in a way that offers inspiration to address the issue in creative ways. Effective programs developed by creatives that address plastic pollution are shared. For example, Bhutan is a place that is new to plastic pollution as they have only started opening their boundaries to the outside world. The Voluntary Artists Studio of Thimphu (VAST) has developed ways of talking trash with their community in ways that challenge people to see how their relationship with waste is transforming. They engage the scope of their community ranging from workshops with kids, public installations to engage professionals, and have implemented a recycling program that inserts a small economy for elders. Their myriad of waste oriented projects are described online in order to offer ideas on ways that creative activists are engaging community participation around these issues.
By inserting Debris into situations that lay outside the realm of plastic activism, ocean studies or even art, the work is able to engage a wider range of populations who are still directly connected to the issues at hand. A string of pop up workshops at the Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy, connected plastic pollution to industrial agricultural practices. Stepping beyond traditional boundaries of disciplinary practice broadens the dialogue in both the arena of food justice issues as well as plastic pollution, strengthening activist voices that stem from each movement. Endocrine disrupting chemicals used in industrial agriculture release persistent organic pollutants into marine ecologies. Ultimately they drain to the oceans, where DDT and PCBs used a generation ago still persist. There is no way to reclaim these chemicals. Including Debris on an agriculture platform connects issues around plastic to a convenience oriented culture that is steeped in the overuse of chemicals. Slow Food International was founded to counter the effects of a fast food culture through all levels of cultivation and consumption. The organization tackles food justice issues in a celebratory manner around maintaining traditional practices of sharing nourishment. The movement offers solutions that encourage us to step out of the racing pace of contemporary mobilities to slow down and gain appreciation for the way we produce and consume food. Through a return to traditional food practices, we may reduce the amount of packaging we consume thus decreasing the physical waste of plastic. More importantly, through decisions we make at market, we may reduce our chemical footprint by maintaining an awareness of how our food has been grown.
Specific to the geography of Copenhagen, the cold waters of the far north and south bear a particular chemical burden. Endocrine disrupting chemicals easily attach to fat, so when persistent organic pollutants enter into the marine food web, the chemicals migrate through animal ingestion, becoming more concentrated in animals who carry a lot of fat. Bioaccumulation in wildlife in the Artic circles means that the animals in cold climates bear the brunt of the chemical exposure even as they live far from industrial practices. Consideration of how we are connected to chemical use in mining and agricultural production is vital to addressing these issues; even as we live far away, the nature of the chemicals is such that they can migrate vast distances on an air or wind current, or in the fat of a migrating animal. In this way, chemicals released anywhere in the world may arrive on our doorsteps. Part of solution building includes an awareness of where our products come from. Beyond the carbon footprint of transport, consideration of the production is essential to reduce our ecological impact on the world.