Welcome to the Anthropocene

From Global Challenge to Planetary Stewardship
Association for Environmental Sciences and Studies
Pace University, New York

Presentation: Creative Engagement – The Value of Stepping Away from Educational Models

That so many artists have been invited to participate in this discourse about how to inspire planetary stewardship in the Anthropocene is an important part of engaging communities around the issues at hand. Many of the environmental issues within the Anthropocene can to be addressed by different disciplines including the sciences and the arts. Science provides us with the knowledge that informs us to help make decisions and opinions. If Science studies the natural world then art can show components of this world in a way that is accessible to the general public through various media. Science provides us with evidence through raw data and examination of results and art appropriates the evidence so that we may make moral judgments about environmental issues.

I’ve been building an internationally scaled artistic collaboration, deeply rooted in science, which addresses a definitive material of our age; plastic. Debris is an interactive installation which is being created as a response to particular problems presented by single use plastic. The work reflects the literal problem of plastic in marine environments, while offering a symbolic representation of the chemical body burdens it imposes on wildlife and humans alike. In presenting these issues, we are asked to consider misplaced notions of “disposability”. This has called in to question consumer driven waste which has devalued what is in fact a very important material. Through creative means, participants are offered a hands-on, educational tool that shows us how we are enmeshed in ecological and health issues surrounding plastic. The Earth is one giant ecosystem, where living and nonliving parts in the environment interact with each other. Debris has provided a creative platform that express one’s concerns about plastic waste and explores alternatives to reduce the impact of plastic on the environment. This creativity has the capacity to help preserve specific biomes and encourages ecological stewardship.

The youngest member of the Stratton ABC Foundation in Thailand holds up his new toy Samurai that he made from re-purposed plastic that would have been otherwise sent to the land fill.
The youngest member of the Stratton ABC Foundation in Thailand holds up his new toy Samurai that he made from re-purposed plastic that would have been otherwise sent to the land fill.

We are all citizens of the Anthropocene. Addressing environmental problems strengthens planetary stewardship. If we are to be good stewards, global action must include working with poverty stricken areas. In these areas, securing the next meal for a family or keeping a roof over their head is a constant struggle for survival. Even with these daily challenges, poverty stricken communities are able to recognize the importance of the environment and strive to maintain balance, despite limited means. I would like to talk about one of the most economically marginalized areas in the western hemisphere, the ghettos in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Educational ‘models’ rarely work here. Haitians have long been subjected to the impositions of outsider worldviews while suffering severe injustices due to globalization. Haitians are not naïve to their history and current situation. Scholars have examined how, even with the best intentions, the imposition of external ‘models’ can be insensitive and dominating in a way that extends forms of neocolonialism and damages the social fabric of the community.

Of course there is good work accomplished by international organizations, and it’s important for us to examine what makes this work successful. The most effective work grows from collaborations within the local community. In regards to plastic pollution, we don’t need to tell Haitians in the ghetto about trash. These are people who have quite literally been thrown out with the trash. Their government doesn’t recognize profit in trash collection so they only do it once a month. Trash piles up on corners, clogs drains and fills the twisted footpath scaled alleyways that weave through these densely packed neighborhoods. Haitians have a very clear understanding of how much waste they produce because it stays present in their lives. I feel that a more humble and respectful approach is necessary when working collaboratively with the Haitians. They have a lot to teach us and we can learn a lot from them.

Here in the United States, most municipalities remove their garbage to a remote waste site, thus putting garbage ‘out of sight’ and ‘out of mind’. In his book, Garbology, Edward Hume describes how in the United States, our biggest legacy to our children is trash, but Americans have little sense of the amount of garbage we produce because it is hidden from us. Despite the overwhelming presence of trash in the streets of Port-au-Prince, the reality is that we as Americans consume more and unwittingly produce a lot more waste.

The Voudoun Lwa, Bousssou created by Atis Rezistans member Louis Kervens represents his interpretation of a protector of the seas
The Voudoun Lwa, Bousssou created by Atis Rezistans member Louis Kervens represents his interpretation of a protector of the seas

Last winter I worked with the Atis Rezistans. This is a group of artists who take trash and turn it into exquisite sculptures. Repurposing material is a main principle of the Debris installation, so I was excited to see how deft the Atis Rezistans are at their art. Instead of imposing my idea of how this project would be shaped, I felt that it was more important to remain open to gathering and hearing the distinctive voices that grow out of a particular place. This allows me to build a genuine response from a diverse range of people that share a concern about this environmental issue which touches us all.

Part of the Atis Rezistans community, Louis Kervens is a proud twelve year old with straight shoulders, a gleaming perfect smile and a heart he holds out in front of him. From him, I acquired a representation of the Vodou Lwa, Boussou, a spirit protector of the seas. When he offered me his collage made of cut tire, my response was not to tell him that there is no scientific evidence to support this spirit form (even though the overall project is deeply rooted in science). Instead I embraced his expression of his traditional culture and said “more than anything the seas NEED a protector, thank you for providing one.” In the overall installation, Louis’s piece speaks of no other place than Haiti. I envision a collection of works that express place as genuinely as this one does. In gathering expressions specific to place from all over the world, the installation will ultimately become a large scaled call for awareness and action that stems from localized interpretations of the waste present in the waters that connect us.

When we think of place, plastic pollution is certainly not limited to the ocean. I live in the Rocky Mountain West, where I’ve learned about inland connections to ocean ecology as well as the impacts of plastic on inland marine environments. Recently I presented a version of Debris for Amigos Bravos, an organization that works to reclaim rivers and ensure water safety in northern New Mexico. Their Beautiful Midden project was founded during the 2012 International Symposium of Electronic Arts (ISEA) in order to bring attention to a section of the Rio Grande gorge which had been used as an illegal dumping ground for over 20 years. Working in area schools, students are engaged creatively to make art inspired by the site. An important educational component to this kind of work is contextualizing our own actions; encouraging participants to recognize how we fit into global contexts of waste. In the west, toxins enter our waterways from industries like mining and agriculture. Home to Los Alamos, New Mexico struggles against leaking radioactive waste, and radioactive waste cans enter the visual language used in Beautiful Midden. Toxins end up traveling downstream and ultimately drain into the oceans.

Dr. Theo Colborn was one of the first to recognize the trans-generational effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals in the Great Lakes region. She started the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, which is based in Paonia, Colorado. In her book, Our Stolen Future, she describes how easily chemicals can travel immense distances by getting swept up in water or air currents, or even migrating through food webs. Plastic is a material that absorbs high concentrations of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) that have drained from inland chemical use. DDT and PCBs were used a few generations ago but still persist in the ocean.

The research of Chelsea Rochman, a marine biologist, has shown that when sea life eat the small bits of plastic which have absorbed high concentrations of POPs, the chemicals de-sorb into their flesh and enter the food web. The chemicals become more concentrated every time the affected fish are consumed. Of course, plastic does not cycle back into the environment, it instead photo-degrades and breaks down into smaller and smaller bits. The fields of plankton that form the foundation of ocean ecosystems are saturated with microscopic bits of plastic that are easily consumed by the zooplankton and small creatures that feed there.

Ecosystem including zooplankton and small fish created at the Museum of Natural History at the University of Colorado
Ecosystem including zooplankton and small fish created at the Museum of Natural History at the University of Colorado

A large part of Debris is made up of images of diatoms and plankton life forms. Last fall, the University’s Museum of Natural History presented a hands on version of Debris. This served as the endpoint of an educational journey, From the Mountains to the Prairies to the Oceans. The artistic images that resulted from the event were primarily diatoms because there is team at the University that maintains a focus of study on diatoms. Instead of building a ‘model’ for the Debris project, I aspire to leave it open and flexible so that it may compliment a particular program or institution. The voices gathered from each particular program then come together to contribute to a thorough investigation of plastic pollution from the unique perspectives of each area of expertise.

A sculpture by Aragorn bursts into flame after the 'Message in a Bottle' performance washed ashore hundreds of glowing plastic bottles onto his beach in Trellis Bay
A sculpture by Aragorn bursts into flame after the ‘Message in a Bottle’ performance washed ashore hundreds of glowing plastic bottles onto his beach in Trellis Bay

We must not limit this flexibility to scientific institutions; I feel that it’s important to be open to artistic interpretations as well. I embrace various ways of engaging the public and relish in the opportunity to collaborate with artists who have a different vision on how to execute a creative work. Aragorn’s workshop is situated on the beach in Trellis Bay, just off Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. He hosts events that feature local music, Creole feasts and bonfires that burn within his sculptures that are installed above the shallow waters just off his beach. During his New Year’s celebration, he was inspired by Debris to orchestrate a Message in a Bottle from the sea about plastic pollution. A large group of people were gathered on the beach, waiting with anticipation as the steel sculptures were about to be lit. As they watched the dark harbor, hundreds of glowing plastic bottles washed ashore at their feet. Then the steel sculptures burst into flames. Heightening the overall effect of the message, a band of local kids ran out onto the beach and gathered all of the glowing bottles so that the beach was immediately cleaned. This was an unexpected but uplifting conclusion to the action.

There are many sources of plastic pollution and chemical body burdens. By collaborating with organizations who address these sources (even if plastic doesn’t enter directly into their vocabulary), we demonstrate the interconnectivity of environmental issues. For example, industrial agriculture is one of the primary contributors of Persistent Organic Pollutants that cause endocrine disruption. One of the most important platforms for the global sustainable food movement is the biannual Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy for which I’m honored to be included in the Slow Food US delegation later this fall.

It was at the last conference that I met Jerry Brown, a Pacific fisherman. I had told him about creating the foundation of Debris during a residency at the Chateau de la Napoule in France at that time. His response was, “Finally, FINALLY, someone has brought up the impacts of agriculture on the Oceans.” His clear blue eyes held me in the steady gaze that only a true mariner can possess as we explored ways to bring this issue into the discourse that surrounds food issues. I’ll take Debris with me this year to demonstrate how the oceans literally connect us so that agricultural practices anywhere in the world contribute to, or help reduce, the chemical body burdens to which we are universally subjected.

The main cause of plastic pollution is an inordinate amount of physical waste; the primary source stemming from a convenience-oriented consumer culture. Shifting attitudes away from consuming over-packaged goods and succumbing to the convenience of a throw-away society towards a recognition that there is no ‘away’ to throw things is paramount to solving our problem of plastic pollution. Later this summer I’ll take Debris to Mexico to engage participants in the Moving Beyond Capitalism conference hosted by the Center for Global Justice. My hope is to engage participants in a dialogue that relates to the issues at hand, while offering a tool for diverse geographic populations to explore ways to bring balance to the Anthropocene.

By maintaining open, flexible creative responses, the arts provide a tool that weaves together the concepts of cause and effect as related to the single material of plastic. This project is a gathering of voices; it is not ‘mine’ but ‘ours’. My role is to maintain a central nexus around which we build an internationally scaled series of educational events and calls to action. I’d like to see people take inspiration and run with it. Online I offer descriptions of other creative projects, so that people can develop their own ideas. Kristen Heeres is an arts educator in Denver, who builds creative programming to complement elementary classroom curricula. She spent time in my studio exploring Debris, then appropriated it into a fully developed project using the methods she saw in my studio as well as my recounting of Message in a Bottle from the Virgin Islands. What impressed me most about her approach is how she used the project as a means to get her students to connect to animals. She works with a bilingual class in a low income public school. They don’t have a lot of resources, and it can be hard to get funding for field trips. Her students first created fish with collaged waste then put them in plastic bottles, which she installed in the Denver Aquarium’s education department. It then proved to be an easy request for a bus to take them to see their work in the aquarium on a field trip, and Kristen took full advantage.

DEBRIS installation at the Denver Aquarium by Kristen Heeres
Part of the DEBRIS installation at the Denver Aquarium by Kristen Heeres was inspired by the ‘Message in a Bottle’ performance by Aragorn and features representations of fish placed inside plastic bottles.

As part of the trip, they got to tour the aquarium and see firsthand the marine organisms they had only previously seen in books. She felt the most satisfying part of the overall project was watching the kids’ faces fill with delight and wonder at these creatures. This direct interaction had a marked impact on the students. Marine biodiversity was no longer an abstract presentation in a book. This kind of connection and experiential learning is vital if we want to get people to care. Kristen is a dear friend and provides an important aspect to this collaboration. People may contact her for ideas on how to develop creative projects specific to their educational programing. Her information is available on our website.

Through my own transformation into motherhood, I realized how moms can be a strong catalyst for change because we have an inherent need to take care of our families. Part of the reason I emphasize the health impacts of the chemical body burdens we carry is because people are inspired to address things that directly affect them. At this conference, we all know that plastic in the ocean is devastating, but frankly for most people, it’s a far off place that they don’t regularly think much about. By seeing the parallel of the environmental toll in the toll on our health, we can cultivate an understanding that leads to action as manifested through the day to day decisions we make. As moms, we try our best to take care of our families. As much as we are able, we make decisions that maintain a balance of health and happiness. When my son was born, I spent a lot of time interviewing pediatricians about the biggest health challenges for children today; Autism, ADHD, diabetes, infertility, obesity, and even Cancer. According to the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, all of these may be related to the chemical body burdens we carry. The way we take care of our families has cause and effect on our surrounding environment. The way we internalize these issues has direct external implications, for worse or better.

DEBRIS as an interactive installation at the Chateau de la Napoule, France
DEBRIS as an interactive installation at the Chateau de la Napoule, France

The other essential partners in environmental activism are children. The arts are an ideal way to engage kids. Every time I put my son in any kind of program, he reports back with a very thorough critique. What I’ve learned from him is that he, as most young children, is most engaged through hands on projects. Listening to a talking head leads to glazed over deafness. Letting children feel that they are part of a solution is empowering for them. Giving them the opportunity to voice their concerns for their own futures is essential. They LOVE the international element of this particular project, and I will often pull out a map to point out all the different places that voices have contributed to this act. More important than anything else, children bring the issues to the hearts of their families.

I want to leave you with a story I heard while having tea with a naturalist in one of the most biologically diverse places on earth, the Osa wilderness in Costa Rica. He told me about a program initiated by the government in Costa Rica in response to the crocodiles teetering on the edge of existence. Water in Costa Rica, like everywhere, draws wildlife as well as the development of farms. Livestock by their nature, are easy prey for crocodiles as they drank from the river during the dry seasons. Naturally, farmers would kill the crocs to protect their animals. But crocodiles are an important part of the ecosystem, like all predators. Costa Rica has a relatively enlightened government who recognized this, and developed a program to bring back the crocs. First they reimbursed farmers for lost livestock. More importantly, they implemented a school program where students hatched baby crocs and took care of them for some time before releasing them into the wild. The kids developed bonds with the baby crocs, so that when papa pulled out his gun after a calf got devoured, the kids would say, “NO! That might be my baby crocodile!” We care about our children. We listen to them. In this way, they can be some of the most important messengers amongst us.

The overall conference focused on the argument advanced by many environmental experts that Earth has entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, or “the recent age of humans.” Proponents of this theory contend that humans have become a global geophysical force capable of disrupting the grand cycles of biology, chemistry and geology by which elements like carbon and nitrogen circulate between land, sea and atmosphere. This is resulting in profound alteration of the planet’s climate, serious threats to a large array of species and critical ecosystems and conversion of fertile lands to desert.

The Association for Environmental Studies & Sciences

Voces en Aumento: Voices Rising

Project developed by Kristen Murphy Heeres with 2nd graders of Holm Elementary School, Denver

“If many little people, in many little places, do many little things, they can change the face of the Earth.” – African Proverb

Message in a Bottle pieces created in a workshop facilitated by Kristen Heeres at Holm Elementary, Denver
Message in a Bottle pieces created in a workshop facilitated by Kristen Heeres at Holm Elementary, Denver. This work won an award from the Colorado State Governor’s office for innovative arts programs.

Plastic debris in our oceans and on land is a global problem. This problem did not exist a decade ago nor did it exist before in the history of our planet. This plastic waste has become “the ghosts of our consumption.” In conjunction to studying animals in Ms. Felix’s grade class, the students worked in art to show the affects plastic waste has on these animals and their habitat and give them a voice that will rise up and let the world’s love of animals and the earth motivate change. The students understood through their research and lessons that science tells us how something really is and how it works but does not express how one feels. Through this work, they have created a synergy between art and science.

The students began this study by exploring how plastic waste begins from storm drains, gyres in the ocean to daily littering. They understood that although some of the littering is not accidental, many people are unaware of the affects it plays in nature and others may think the world is so big a little trash wouldn’t hurt. The students know it is their job to speak for the animals and their world and educate others to on how to keep the earth clean. The students explored their own school grounds and gathered bags of trash some of which they recycled or disposed of and other trash was cleaned and selected to adorn their artwork with. Each of their animals has debris on them but used it in a way to express a need for change. Upon finishing their animals the students each created an inkblot landscape to place their animals on to exemplify the permanency of this global problem if actions are not taken by all members of our society to stop this problem.

The paper mache tree is an emblem of growth and can be added to over time by other classes or groups around the world. The branches reach out to our world with messages of hope and awareness. The leaves were an oil and water experiment we conducted to show the affects an oil spill has on animals and their habitat. Lastly, the students photographed their work and used a gel medium to transfer their images on to foam so their work could be more mobile and allow room for others to join in their efforts. In this installation, art and young hands will play a role in making all aware of this global problem through visual voices.

Kristen Heeres led her students through a process of collecting litter around the school and collaging the plastic into a printmaking technique. This allowed the students to tune into the trash present into their own spheres. The animals that inspired these works came from a study of local river ecologies.
Kristen Heeres led her students through a process of collecting plastic litter around the schoolyard and collaging the plastic into a printmaking technique. This allowed the students to tune into the trash present into their own spheres. The animals that inspired these works came from a study of local river ecologies.

 

Message in a Bottle
Denver Aquarium

Are you afraid of ghosts? This installation should really scare you because it reflects the “ghosts of our consumption” that are lurking in every corner and on every shore around the globe. Instead of collecting seashells on the shore, you can collect vibrant sun-bleached and patina-worn plastic. Plastic pollution is a growing problem that must be stopped and awareness through love is the students’ mission. The second graders set forth as scientists and studied these animals. They learned about where they live, what they eat and more. As artists they explored how an animal is affected by this global problem and created a work of art to express a “Message in a Bottle” that shows how these animals truly feel and are affected by plastic waste. Their intent is to “nudge” others with these works of art and motivate a “LOVE” that will promote change.

This problem DID NOT exist a generation ago but now this generation wants to make a change for their future and the future of our sea life, wildlife and majestic lands around the world. Help them in their efforts by educating one another about the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling!


Kristen in available for consulting on how to integrate the Debris project into school curriculum: klh08@comcast.net – 720-878-5254

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

A Voice from the Ghetto

Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

A weave made of re-puposed plastic spaghetti packaging by Myrlande Carrenard. She makes purses out of the fabric, adding value to the material.
A weave made of re-puposed plastic spaghetti packaging by Myrlande Carrenard. She makes purses out of the fabric, adding value to the material while building a small industry for herself.

Walking through Cité Dieu is bleak. Four years after the big earthquake of 2010, the neighborhood remains askew, like many ghettos throughout Port-Au-Prince. Cold, grey cement structures jut out at odd angles, having been shaken out of place and never fully repaired. The alleyways are filled with an eerie silence as quiet desperation ensues. This particular ghetto is tucked in beside a dump along the sea. The dump receives waste from the more affluent neighborhoods on the hill whereas in the ghettos, trash is not picked up more than once a month. It fills the twisted alleyways and clogs the drainages as it slowly makes its way into the Caribbean Sea. It would not be at all surprising if Port-au-Prince was the primary contributor of marine debris in the Caribbean simply because of the lack of civic infrastructure in the most densely populated neighborhoods, the poorest of which lay closest to the sea, downstream from the rest.

Crossing the Boulevard Harry Truman, we are greeted with the warm buzz of industry in the Grand Rue neighborhood inhabited by the Atis Rezistans. The creative community consists of craftsmen and fine artists and offers a marked contrast to the desolate quality of Cité Dieu. Haitians have long been subjected to the impositions of outsider worldviews while suffering severe injustices due to globalization. However, in the face of severe poverty, this community has developed alternative economies based on creative capital and has gained a deserved respect for their visual practice. The artists blend woodworking traditions with contemporary materials like metal, tires and plastic to create poignant reflections of the economic disparities they face. They make use of material discarded by the surrounding autoworkers and machinists, implementing a sort of creative ecology which offers new life to unwanted materials. People here have an acute understanding of the waste they produce because it stays present in their sphere, whereas the waste stream is hidden from urban environments elsewhere. We can draw from this understanding and learn how to transform discarded material into useful objects or art which speaks specifically of place. Making use of the material that passes through their sphere is transformative both physically in the material, and conceptually in the issues comprised therein.

Re-purposed truck beds are built into the wall of a house in Lakou Papa Da in the Atis Rezistanz community
Re-purposed plastic truck beds are built into the wall of a house in Lakou Papa Da in the Atis Rezistanz community

Louis Kervens is a proud twelve year old with straight shoulders, a gleaming perfect smile and a heart he holds out in front of him. He made a representation of the Vodoun Lwa, Boussou, a spirit protector of the seas. More than anything, the seas need a protector, and his image recognizes that need. In the overall installation, Louis’s piece speaks of no other place than Haiti. Instead of imposing a singular idea of how this collaboration should be shaped, the Debris Project remains open to gathering the distinctive voices that grow out of a particular place. This allows for authentic representations from a diverse range of people who share a concern about this material which touches us all. In gathering expressions specific to place from all over the world, the installation becomes a large scaled call for awareness and action that stems from localized interpretations of the waste present in the waters that connect us.

www.atis-rezistans.com

Foundations: Chateau de la Napoule

In 2012, La Napoule Art Foundation offered a residency for artists to create work specifically for a young audience in mind. As a new mom, I was moved to create work about environmental issues my son will face in his lifetime. Plastic, the chemicals that make up the material, as well as the chemicals used in industrial agriculture became of primary concern since I started feeding him his first foods. The intentions expressed in the proposal below became the foundation for the Debris Project.

Creating original works for the Debris Project at the Chateau de la Napoule. Photo by Michael Gadlin

Proposal for the Children themed residency at the Chateau de la Napoule:

Through the myriad of perspectives of age and place, I would like to explore a single material which transcends our differences and has a tremendous impact on all of us; Plastic.

Plastic is one of the most important materials in our lives. 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.

Children are often interested in issues that affect their health and the planet they will inherit. It is important to engage them on pertinent issues so that they may take ownership of their future. They also demonstrate a strong interest in having an impact on the world while they are still young. We can be inspired by the idealism of youth in solving pressing problems. Art is a fantastic platform on which to explore creative ideas and solutions to problems which affect us all.

Because Plastic fills our lives, it is a very familiar material which is often taken for granted. I aspire to encourage children to consider this very common material in new ways.

I would like to present work which explores both the environmental importance of plastic which endures in a useful form, and contrast it to the environmental catastrophe of single use plastics. It takes a lot of effort to pay attention to how we use the most common materials in our lives. It is important to encourage youth to start paying attention to our daily actions to encourage their understanding of our places in context of the world in which we live. 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 communities.

As a compliment to the work that I create which would encourage a reconsideration of this common but untraditional material, I would like to design an interactive element where children could build their own art works from found plastic objects that would otherwise be laid to waste. In the hopes that it would inspire a long term ability to repurpose materials, I hope that it offers a shift in perception as to the value of materials that are often overlooked.

Beyond the scope of this particular residency, I would like to take the interactive element into various schools and communities at home and abroad in order to engage children on the subject of plastic. I plan to build an online presence with the work and reflections created by the kids to form a foundation of a visual dialogue around this material which touches us all.