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

Mandy Stapleford

Mandy Stpaleford SEED Ceramics

My SEED art is a reflection of my relationship to this planet that I live on, and how I feel about this world that I live in.

Along with sex and soft and berries and ooze; horns, thorns, and spikes often dominate these pieces. They are among nature’s boldest and most audacious forms. They are never random. They are often the most beautiful. When displayed, you can’t miss them. They can be striking, protective, frightening or comforting.  

It all depends on which side of the armor you are on.

It all depends on what is being protected.

But there is always a purpose.

There is nothing random in nature.

Sometimes what I do is the smallest elements in nature, and in us, made big. It is a closer look without the magnifying glass.  

It is the inside on the outside.

Animal, human and vegetable… exposed.

The SEED is the beginning of it all.

It’s intent is to be embraced, even if it elicits something uncomfortable… particularly if it does.

Everything in nature has purpose.

There is nothing random here.

This work is about our inner psyche and our connection to the immediate world around us.

We are not just residing on Planet Earth, we come from it and are part of it.

Everything in nature has purpose.

To examine closely is to seek truth

and freedom.

It is our connection to everything.

Mandy Stapleford SEED Ceramic detail
Mandy Stapleford SEED Ceramic detail
Mandy Stapleford SEED Ceramic detail

Siena Sanderson

Seeds in Search of Safe Ground

DISPERSAL: The action or process of distributing things or people over a wide area

Since the beginning of time both seeds and people have found their way to new territory. Dispersal is so often random with conditions unpredictable and endings potentially tragic or triumphant.  These scrolls are dedicated to the many refugees being dispersed throughout the world today and to the hope that they will find their way to safe new ground.

Siena Sanderson installation of seeds
Siena Sanderson SEED detail

Laura Phelps Rogers

As a contemporary artist, my three dimensional work focuses on metal fabrication, iron and bronze casting – with photography playing a critical role in both my creative process, installation and mixed media work.  Using a narrative approach my work integrates social and cultural constructs to reveal layers of familiarities.  Expanding those ideas to include larger topics of: roles of women, the west, the landscape and my agricultural roots continues to facilitate my interest in ephemeral materials as part of my visual process. The changing western landscape and our changing food sources serve as a basis to include food and natural materials in my work, while expanding the historical and social dialogue pertaining to food and food sources.  Using a layered approach, I frequently combine nostalgia with humor and playfulness, to contrast the more serious aspects of life and our environment.  Connecting viewers and community through my narrative approach continues to be a driving force in my work.

Laura Phelps Rogers

Laura Phelps Rogers, Bronze sculpture of A Simpler Time
A Simpler Time, cast bronze, wire, clothespins

Sybille Palmer

Alphabet of Life Scroll- The Backstory

I was only 10 years old when I fully encountered the impact of commerce and industry on the environment. Our family left behind suburban New Jersey and returned to Germany. My father worked as a chemist for Bayer. We moved within sightline of this enormous chemical plant. It was 1966. All the fish were dying in the Rhein. The air was so polluted you could see it as well as smell it. It was shocking.

I was horrified.

I left Germany behind in my twenties and moved to Hawaii. Lived off the grid, explored an alternative lifestyle. We grew our own organic food and I realized how much more alive it tasted. How deeply nourishing it felt. I became aware of the healing power of food and began to study the Healing Arts.

In 2006 I read the “Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. This book changed my life deeply and forever. I began to understand the larger context of food-systems. Pollan showed me how highly political food really is. How much Big Agriculture impacts our environment and thus the quality of our lives.

I began to read all kinds of texts on ecology. “Deep Economy” and “The End of Nature.” by Bill McKibben, “Cradle to Cradle” by Michael McDonough.  Books by Carlos Petrini, the founder of Slow Food. Of course I became a Slow Food member. I realized that voting with my fork is important. The way I spend my food dollars matters.

Pollan’s writing on “The Ark of Taste” showed me the importance of preserving our heritage, starting with seeds. This preservation effort also extends to protecting the ways of ancient cultures – their farming methodologies and ethnic foods. Without seeds we have no future. 

In the same year, and meanwhile living in Los Angeles, I met a woman named Amory Starr. She is a political economist and social movements scholar. She was exploring  using food to build community. She was inviting her class to dinner in her Venice loft. She had also started a monthly event called “The Viand”. After I attended the first time, I immediately asked to join as a chef.

The concept was simple:

5 chefs- 10 courses-20 guests-byo wine.

We handed out invitations both to friends and strangers. Specifically we made sure to include our favorite farmers and vendors, cheese mongers and such. We created maps of food sheds. We wrote a Zine every month, introducing guests to the concepts of Slow Food. Seasonal. Local. Organic. Letting the ingredients shine. Sharing food in the company of others. A small plates feast. It was an exploration, an experiment, and a joy. A new way to grow a community.

Amory went on to write a book about it:  “Underground Restaurant- Local Food, Artisan Economies, Creative Political Culture.”

Then- in 2009 the first Seed Show opened in Taos. I had moved there the year before and asked if I could submit work for the next show. I took part twice.

The show is based on the book “Seeds- Time Capsules of Life.” by Rob Kessler & Wolfgang Stuppy. It is a most inspiring read with amazing photography. I learned so much. It made me aware of the importance of Seed Banks.

The “Alphabet of Life Scroll” is a 34’ long piece, featuring the 9000 names of plant species facing extinction worldwide. To tie it in locally, I featured the images and names of the 13 plants endangered in New Mexico.

I also created a handout addressing the Holocene Mass Extinction. On it I included websites and suggestions on how to get involved and become informed citizens. It is my sincere hope that we will wake up and begin to make better choices. May it never become an Extinction Scroll. It would be such an immense loss.

Sybille Palmer, Taos New Mexico

Sybille Palmer Alphabet of life scroll installation
Detail of the Alphabet of Life scroll


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

Merce Mitchell

Merce Mitchell sculpture of Pod: Skullcap
POD: Skullcap

I have been a feltmaker for twenty years. I create dimensional pieces of inlay design, embellished and embroidered, and sculpture.  Felt has a tendency to mutate and change form. There’s an element of chaos that emphasizes process over result, leading to an unplanned order, a natural unfolding and allowing the work to have a life of its own.

There is always a story in my work, mixing the personal and symbolic. My inspirations and translations revolve around chaos theory, vortex energy, women’s power and aspects, seeds, and life/death imagery, which are all my personal experience.

My main focus is fine fiber artwork that emphasizes color, construction and deconstruction. Form, technique, and the combination of felt, wire, and encaustic is my current exploration.

Merce Mitchell

Merce Mitchell felt sculpture of Pod: Hermannia
POD: Hermannia

Linda Michel-Cassidy



The Synonym Finder tells me that
“avail”means: profit,
 benefit, help, serve


But also: take advantage of,
exploit, and the sinister
“turn to account”


Once a thing is spent,
it is done for.
An irrevocable trade


Consider an ad for land
“Rarely does a property like this one
become available”


Rending: to split or tear apart, or in pieces
to remove from a place by violence
Reave and sunder


Now, consider a bulldozer,
a falsely-fallowed field
seeds not sown


This undoing
whose professional name is “progress”

* The Synonym Finder (Rodale Press, Inc, 1978, Warner Books Edition)

Linda Michel-Cassiday SEED Installation
Linda Michel-Cassidy installation view at the Dairy Arts Center, Boulder
Linda Michel-Cassiday SEED Installation
Installation detail with view of Rian Kerrane‘s SEED Wallpaper
Linda Michel-Cassiday SEED Installation
Linda Michel-Cassiday SEED Installation
Linda Michel-Cassiday SEED Installation
Linda’s daughter helps with the installation.
“It’s like I planted a flower smack dab in the middle of a development” LMC