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.

Katie Woodall

Katie Woodall sculpture

Dedicated Altar

After our hive was destroyed by a bear, sections lay on the ground. I found this propolis and wax section intact just under the hive where I guess the mice had been living, eating plum seeds and honey. A complex habitat.

They say that “bees are the legs of the plant”…delivering the pollen from flower to flower. They are actually the essential connectors that make it possible for us to survive by way of the fruit of the vine.

In many places around the world, bees have been disappearing. There are chemicals in GMO corn and soy, etc. that take away the memory of how to get back to the hive. For monoculture crops – like almonds in California – big farming uses millions of bees to pollinate but doesn’t provide enough diverse forage, and so they die. This is just one example. The agricultural pesticides we use destroy immune systems. Whole communities of bees are broken apart continuously in industrial harvesting. These ways can change.

Humans and bees have been working together for 10,000 years. They are our allies. Come back, bees! This altar is dedicated to their return, we are a community together. It works as a tool for anyone to use as many times as needed. Just light the candle and replace with a new one.

Katie Woodall Shrine for Bees
Katie Woodall portrait of Vandana Shiva