A Walk up Zarka Valley

In contrast to the fragmented systems we found around Fez, the Zarka Valley has a functional network of acequia. Little need for a mayor domo to direct the use of water, there is plenty to take when needed, as the river fed by the Zarka (blue) spring flows constantly. The fields are growing corn, interspersed with livestock fodder like clovers or alfalfa to replenish the soil for a few years between growing out the corn again. Along the edges of the fields, blooming oleander and various medicinal herbs flourish. The ditch system is well maintained and the government restores the concrete ditches, which look like they were recently refurbished.

Zarka valley above Tetouan Morocco
Green fields flourish even in mid-summer in the Zarka Valley above Tetouan.
Recently refurbished canal systems are visible from above.
Terraced fields prevent runoff to hold water longer in the cultivated fields.
In the foreground, clover and alfalfa replenish the nitrogen in while providing feed.
Above, corn thrives as it is cycled through the field once every few years.
Horses plowing a field in the Zarka valley, Morocco
In the shoulder season, fields are plowed between harvests.
Egrets followed close behind as the farmer spreads his seed.
A few more grains are sown to share with our non-human neighbors.
New Acequia headgate
Newly refurbished canals and headgates are provided by the government.
Several types of mint grow amongst the oleander.
old Zarka headgate
Downstream, medicinal plants grow happily in the deteriorated headgate. Even though it is worn, the headgate works well in the way that water seepage keeps the soil moist.
Flood irrigation - Acequia in Morocco
As the water flows through various headgates, it is directed through lines etched into the landscape to provide paths through which water may drain into crop fields to completely saturate the soil.

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

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.