Seaside Goldenrod

Monarchs sip nectar from September blooms of Seaside Goldenrod to prepare for their long autumn migration. After several generations of Monarchs have made their way north to Maine, this last generation flies the entire return trip to the alpine forests of central Mexico, where they will over winter.

While Milkweed is essential food for Monarch caterpillars, a diversity of late blooming plants offer important nourishment for migrating monarchs. It’s important NOT to mow fields until much later in the season so the flowers may continue to offer nectar…and then seeds to migrating birds!

¡Pollinate! Artsweek at GSA

Pollinator sculpture hung from the trees

Broadening perceptions of HOME to include outdoor spaces beyond our walls helps cultivate an understanding of the interrelationships between humans and pollinators. As for humans, good homes for pollinators include plenty of food, safe access to water and shelter, and enough space to raise the next generation. Developing the awareness of what is available beyond our fencelines, we may fill in the gaps to support movement of pollinators through our own spheres. The movement of pollinators like bees, butterflies, beetles & moths is highly localized. During the spring we think about the ways that pollinators navigate our gardens, filling in gaps in bloom time with native flowers and ensure there is enough tufting grass to provide protection. In this workshop, students from the George Stevens Academy constructed pollinator homes out of hollow stems, drilled holes in dead wood and sculpted stacks of branches in the staghorn sumac grove above Wardwell Pasture during their Artsweek creative workshops. We used material from a tree that had needed to be cleared because of the proximity to the road by which it had fallen because we don’t like to disrupt in-tact ecologies by taking out materials that make up existing systems. Our tools included a drill, hacksaw, twine, hammer and a single nail. The sculptures persisted through the seasons, slowly melting back into the landscape over time.

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.

Monarch

Collaboration between Susanne Mitchell & Lee Lee

The Monarch butterfly population is on the verge of collapse. Huge swaths of industrialized monoculture have all but decimated the milkweed which is necessary to nourish the three generations of butterflies that complete a migration cycle. We rely on them as pollinators who help us maintain an important biodiversity. Chemical inputs, especially pesticides, are fatal to butterflies. No less so for humans, but our decline is slow. Visually, the butterfly is fragile. We chose to print the foundation of this installation with a cold white ink on black paper which gives the butterflies a ghostly appearance. Inserted into the SEED narrative next to Evan Anderman’s aerial landscape of monoculture production in eastern Colorado, the palette gives the impression of ashen forms to represent the Monarch crisis.

Traditionally, the butterfly represents hope. Here, it serves as a transition from crisis to hope as expressed by Siena Sanderson’s work. Butterflies symbolize transformation; in moving from one state to another, a change in perspective or a new lifestyle. In this way, the butterfly may teach awareness of other ways of being. The Monarch butterfly connects Mexico and the United States through one of the most spectacular migrations in the wild. Through presenting installations dotted along the migration route of the Monarch, we encourage participation in a dialogue from regions north and south of a border that is evident to us but invisible to the graceful Monarchs. Through this conversation, we aspire to cultivate fertile grounds out of which we may grow solutions to the environmental catastrophes we face now.

Susanne Mitchell
Lee Lee

Monarch installation view