Energy Flow: A Wind Powered Public Art Installation in Pittsburgh

On a recent visit to Pittsburgh, PA I had the opportunity to see “Energy Flow”, a wind-powered art installation on Rachel Carson Bridge. It was created in 2016 through a collaboration between environmental artist, Andrea Polli, and WindStax, a Pittsburgh-based wind turbine manufacturer.

Using sixteen small vertical axis wind turbines to power 27,000 LED lights, the piece produces a rainbow of colors up and down the bridge’s vertical supports. The light show visualizes the local wind speed and direction in real time as detected by an onsite weather station. The project also has battery storage to power the lights for up to twelve hours when the wind is not blowing. In essence, this artwork turned the bridge into a micro-grid – a single location where power is produced, stored and consumed.

As a site-specific art installation, it honors the environmental legacy of Rachel Carson (1907-1964). She was a native of the Pittsburgh area who went on to become a marine biologist and famous environmental writer. Her books, such as “Silent Spring”, are widely credited with inspiring the environmental movement of the 1960s that eventually brought about federal laws like the Clean Air Act.

The project also highlights Pittsburgh’s new focus on technological innovation and sustainability. Once known as the “Smokey City”, because of all the pollution that billowed from its plethora of mills and factories, Pittsburgh has refocused its economy and remade its image. Situated at the confluence of three rivers – the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio – it is home to an astounding 446 bridges and is now often referred to as the “City of Bridges”. The Rachel Carson Bridge was originally, and rather simply, called the Ninth Street Bridge after it opened in 1926. It was renamed on Earth Day 2006.

“Energy Flow” was only expected to be up for a few months to celebrate Pittsburgh’s Bicentennial. But due to popular demand, its run has been extended through the end of 2018.

“Energy Flow” Wind/Light Installation on Rachel Carson Bridge, Pittsburgh, PA. Credit: Covestro LLC

Art Installation Marks the 5th Anniversary of Superstorm Sandy

Five years ago today, Superstorm Sandy slammed New York City. Its record storm surge flooded many low-lying areas and claimed the lives of forty-four people across the city. Of that number, twenty-four were on hard-hit Staten Island.

To mark this anniversary, local artist Scott LoBaido created a temporary installation in his home borough. Honoring each local victim, he constructed unique figures out of chicken wire and battery-operated LED lights. Scattered across Midland Beach, the display is a poignant reminder of the deadly storm and the dangers of rising sea levels. It is on view through 11 PM on October 30.

Art installation honors Sandy victims on Staten Island. Credit: Staten Island Advance

Wearable Artwork Raises Awareness about Air Quality

The air we breathe is not always good for us. Air pollution has been linked to a number of health concerns, from asthma to heart disease, and even cancer. To raise awareness about this issue, artist Dominque Paul has created a dress that changes colors to indicate how safe the air we breathe actually is. It’s called Air Quality Interactive Wearable.

With the exception of smog and wildfire smoke, air pollution is not something we can always see with the naked eye. To make it visible, Ms. Paul uses an Air Beam, a portable device that measures the amount of small particles (PM 2.5) in the air. These are particles that are less than 2.5 microns or 0.0001 inches in diameter. Using the Air Beam’s calculation, a color from the EPA’s Air Quality Index is assigned to the dress. These colors range from green for good air quality to yellow, orange, red, and purple, which indicate increasing levels of pollution.

Ms. Paul created this wearable art piece as part of a residency program with IDEAS xLab, a non-profit organization that uses art to raise awareness about public health. Watch the video below of her “Air Walk” in the South Bronx section of New York City.

Panel Discussion: Art and Sustainability in the Anthropocene

Climate change is a complex scientific subject with a plethora of data-rich reports that detail its causes and diverse impacts. Not everyone, however, responds to facts and figures or charts and graphs. That is why art, which taps into human emotion, can help create new pathways of understanding and raise awareness about this critical issue.

On Thursday, July 13, I will be discussing the intersection of art and climate change as part of a panel at the 24th International Conference of Europeanists in Glasgow, Scotland. Moderated by Julie Reiss of Christie’s Education, the panel is titled “Art and Sustainability in the Anthropocene”. My fellow panelists include Martha Schwendener (New York Times), Weiyi Chang (University of British Columbia), and Patrizia Costantin (Manchester School of Art).

This annual conference is organized by the Council for European Studies (CES), whose mission is to produce and support multidisciplinary research about Europe. They are “particularly committed to supporting research that can play a critical role in understanding and applying the lessons of European history and integration to contemporary problems, including those in the areas of global security, sustainability, environmental stewardship, and democracy.” The theme of year’s event is sustainability and transformation.

Credit: CES

Earth Muse: Art and the Environment at the Heckscher Museum

Nature has inspired artists for centuries, and today the subject seems more relevant than ever. In Earth Muse: Art and the Environment, an exhibition at The Heckscher Museum of Art, contemporary artists explore the natural world from a variety of perspectives.

Curated by Lisa Chalif, the exhibit offers a new experience of familiar landscapes and reflects on society’s impact on the environment. Artists include: Brandon Ballengée, Peter Beard, Alex Ferrone, Melissa Fleming, Winn Rea, Barbara Roux, and Michelle Stuart.

The show runs through July 30, 2017. For a full list of events during the course of the exhibition, including a gallery talk with some of the artists on April 30, please click here.

The Heckscher Museum of Art is located at 2 Prime Avenue, Huntington, NY 11743

Credit: The Heckscher Museum of Art

Talking Climate Change with Artist Carolyn Monastra

Talking Climate Change is an interview series focused on the variety of people addressing the issue of our changing climate. Participants run the gamut of professions, from scientists to artists, and together we discuss the subject from a multitude of perspectives. For this installment, I spoke with Carolyn Monastra, a New York City-based artist.

Melissa Fleming: As an artist, how did you get involved with climate change? What motivated you?

Carolyn Monastra: I’ve been a practicing artist as well as an activist and environmentalist for a couple decades, but I never married the three until recently. In 2009, I was on a residency in Iceland and was both mesmerized and haunted by the beauty of the melting glaciers and calving icebergs that I was photographing. I was already aware of the basic concerns about climate change but in 2010, when I heard activist Bill McKibben interviewed on the radio, a light bulb switched on and I realized I needed to use my photography to document this critical issue.

MF: You have a project called The Witness Tree. Tell us about that.

CM: Without knowing it, those photos in Iceland were really the beginning of The Witness Tree. I knew it would be ambitious, but I felt compelled to tell the global story of climate change. In the United States, many do not experience the effects firsthand nor recognize the way that others, especially those in more developing nations, are being impacted. I wanted to use this project to connect the climate dots around the world.

At first, I had planned to document just the impacts on the land but then realized that the lives of people (and wildlife too) are inextricably linked to the land. I used a 2011-12 sabbatical from teaching (at Nassau Community College) to travel continuously for nine months around the world targeting people and places affected by climate change. Most of the work was made during that year, but I have continued to photograph in the Northeast and whenever I travel to someplace new. On the project website, I have over 200 pictures broken up into nine portfolios or “chapters” with each one focusing on a different issue or aspect of climate change.

MF: As you said, images from this project were taken all over the world. How did you choose your locations and the stories you tell? What role did science play?

CM: I spent a full year doing research by reading books by McKibben, James Hansen, Elizabeth Kolbert, and others in the field. I also created a “Google alert” for climate change articles and attended presentations and meetings. Based on my findings, I kept a running list of climate issues and the places I hoped to visit. At some point, I put up a world map in my kitchen and started marking it with color-coded post-its. I knew I wanted to photograph on every continent and that traveling to Antarctica would be the most difficult and expensive to visit. But since it is warming faster at the poles than anywhere else, I felt committed to including it in the project. When I bought my around-the-world ticket, I had to create an itinerary; so some of the locations came down to where the airlines I was flying could take me. For example, I had wanted to photograph the effects of sea level rise in Bangladesh, but it was going to take some extra flights to get me there. Instead, I ended up photographing in a small village in Thailand that is also being inundated by rising seas.

The Viedma Glacier in the Southern Patagonian Ice Fields of Argentina has retreated more than 1 km since the 1930’s. At its current rate of retreat, scientists predict it could disappear within sixty years. ©Carolyn Monastra

It is important to me to understand the science of climate change as best as I can as a layperson. I hate when people (especially politicians) say, “Well, I’m not a scientist,” as an excuse for not acknowledging that climate change is real or in admitting our role in it. I am not a scientist either, but I know how to read and ask questions and make informed decisions about topics that concern me. I like Senator Al Franken’s retort to this cop-out: “I’m not a doctor, but I have to make health care decisions.” When extreme storms and floods start decimating people’s homes, it won’t matter whether or not we are scientists.

MF: What did you learn from this project? Did anything surprise you?

CM: I have learned a lot about the measurable impacts and the not-so-visible impacts of climate change, but what surprised me most, or rather what I was pleased to discover, is that one really can rely on the kindness of strangers. I mostly traveled alone, and nearly everywhere I went, when people learned what I was doing, they had a personal anecdote to tell, or a suggestion of a place to visit, or someone to meet. I could not have done this project without the help of so many “strangers” – many of whom I now consider friends. That said, one thing I suspected that sadly has been confirmed, is that we do indeed have more climate denial in the U.S. than anywhere else, especially now with the current administration. I had a recent experience where a NASA scientist canceled our intended interview after being told by his “current employer” that he was not allowed to discuss his work. I fear that without an active public discourse and climate-change curbing policies, the U.S. carbon footprint will balloon and lead to disastrous results down the road.

MF: How is talking about climate change via art different than talking about it via data and statistics?

CM: In 2012, I was selected by the Climate Reality Project to become one of their “Climate Leaders” and was trained to give slideshows based on Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth model. I used their “deck” of slides (a blend of news photos and charts and graphs) for my first few presentations. As time went on, I transitioned to using my Witness Tree photos and kept a few of the more eye-opening statistical slides. I found my audiences, especially students, responded more to the personal nature of my artistic images and stories.

Stairs and burial vault displaced by Hurricane Isaac floodwaters, Braithwaite, Louisiana, USA, 2012. ©Carolyn Monastra

A musician friend once told me that he thought my pictures were too beautiful to tell the story of something so horrible. I asked him if he would purposely create a piece of atonal music that might appeal to a small audience but push away the general public. I don’t want to gloss over the negative impacts of climate change, but I believe it is possible to use beauty to address the fact that we might lose so much of what is beautiful and necessary in our world.

MF: Tell us more about how you turn your audience from passive viewers into active participants.

CM: After a year or so of giving Witness Tree slideshow presentations where the audience sat in chairs and I stood behind a podium, I wanted to create an audience-engagement activity. I came up with the idea of making a live “Witness Tree” for the Human Impacts Institute’s Creative Climate Awards in 2014. From a tree in a city park, I hung several dozen small Witness Tree prints. On the back of each was a map showing the location where the image was taken, a detailed caption, and some tips on how to reduce one’s carbon footprint. Attendees made postcards for politicians addressing environmental concerns and then were invited to take home one of my photos in exchange for hanging their postcard on the tree. At the end of the event, I mailed the postcards off to the politicians. I believe events like this give people a sense of agency and encourage them to use their own creative skills to address issues that matter to them.

MF: Thank you, Carolyn!  For more images and information about Carolyn’s work, go to thewitnesstree.org. To see a video of her interactive Witness Tree event, go to https://vimeo.com/119784247.

Portrait of Carolyn Monastra in a region of eastern Inner Mongolia that used to be pastureland but has turned into a desert due to the effects of deforestation, overgrazing and climate change. Photo Credit: Jiehao Su.

Survey Says… Art Can Help Broaden the Public Conversation on Climate Change

Art and science are two different disciplines, but it is exciting when they work together. This week, I will be presenting a poster titled “Art Can Help Broaden the Public Conversation on Climate Change” at the 105th Annual Conference of the College Art Association in New York City. This is the same presentation that I made at the Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society last month, where it received a positive response and sparked a number of interesting conversations.

Building on the qualitative aspect of my talk, “The Art and Science of Climate Change”, this poster project quantified the influence climate-art has on people’s opinions. As Lord Kelvin said, “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it…”

Using Survey Monkey, I conducted a national poll where participants were asked comparison questions about the influence of traditional graphs vs. artistic interpretations of climate change. The graphs were sourced from the IPCC’s fifth assessment report and the artwork came from both photojournalists and conceptual artists.

When compared to a graph, the different styles of art received different reactions. On average, however, a significant number of the participants (34%) related more to the issues of climate change via art than through traditional charts and graphs. Overall, 64% of participants said art had changed the way they thought about a subject in the past.

These results show art to be a powerful tool of communication that helps to broaden the public conversation on climate change. They also highlight the fact that a variety of visual outreach methods are needed to reach the entire population on this critical issue that affects us all in one way or another.

The survey shows art can help broaden the public conversation on climate change. Credit: The Weather Gamut.

Love of Winter

Today is Valentine’s Day, a holiday when images of cupid and hearts abound. But for me, it is George Bellows’ Love of Winter that always comes to mind as we mark the mid-point of what is usually New York City’s snowiest month of the year.

A longtime personal favorite, this 1914 painting captures the spirit of those who embrace the season. Filled with the blurred movement of skaters on a frozen pond and accented with spots of bright color that pop against the snow, it conveys the joy of being out in nature on a cold winter day.

While Bellows is better known for depicting scenes of boxing matches and urban life, art historians say he enjoyed the challenge of painting the varied lighting conditions produced by a snow-covered landscape. In fact, he wrote a letter to a friend in January 1914 complaining about the lack of snow in NYC that winter. He said, “There has been none of my favorite snow. I must paint the snow at least once a year.” Then, about a month later, his wish for snow was granted and this picture was created.

Love of Winter is part of the Friends of American Art Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago.

“Love of Winter”, 1914 by George Bellows. Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago

Survey Says… Art Can Help Broaden the Public Conversation on Climate Change

The Tri-State Weather Conference is this weekend and I will be presenting the results of a survey I organized this summer on a poster titled “Art Can Help Broaden the Public Conversation on Climate Change.”

Building on my talk, “The Art and Science of Climate Change”, I was curious to know if climate-art was influencing people’s opinions. Therefore, moving from the qualitative to the quantitative, I conducted an online poll of 300 people from across the US using Survey Monkey. Participants were asked comparison questions about the influence of traditional graphs vs. artistic interpretations of climate change. The graphs were sourced from the IPCC’s fifth assessment report and the artwork came from both photojournalists and conceptual artists.

When compared to a graph, the different styles of art received different reactions. On average, however, a significant number of the participants (34%) related more to the issues of climate change via art than through traditional charts and graphs. Overall, 64% of participants said art had changed the way they thought about a subject in the past.

These results show art to be a powerful tool of communication that helps to broaden the public conversation on climate change. They also highlight the fact that a variety of visual outreach methods are needed to reach the entire population on this critical issue that affects us all in one way or another.

survey_pie_a

The survey shows art can help broaden the public conversation on climate change. Credit: The Weather Gamut.

The Creative Climate Awards – An Art Exhibition on Climate Change

The Human Impacts Institute is bringing art and science together in an effort to expand public understanding of climate change. In a group exhibition called The Creative Climate Awards, artworks of various mediums explore the challenges of this pressing issue.

This annual event, according to organizers, “uses the arts and creativity to share knowledge, broaden the climate conversation, educate, and incite action.” The show features artists from around the world, including: Ellen Alt, Ed Ambrose, Carolina Arevalo, Vikram Arora, Julie Bahn, Danielle Baudrand, Anna Borie, Laura Brodie, Kenneth Burris, Yon Cho, Alejandra Corral de la Serna, Michael Fischerkeller, Melissa Fleming, Rachel Frank, Kathryn Frund, Shelley Haven, Martin Kalanda, Kaiser Kamal, Julian Lorber, Heather McMordie, Dominique Paul, Peim, Fariba Rahnavard, Clark Rendall, Alexandros Simopoulos, Britta Stephen, Shira Toren, Lars Vilhelmsen, Joyce Ellen Weinstein, and Ana Gabriela Ynestrillas.

The exhibit runs from September 27th to October 27th at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO), 1 East 42nd Street, NYC. The opening reception is scheduled for Tuesday, September 27th from 6PM to 8PM. This event is free and open to the public.

For a full list of events during the course of the exhibition, please click here.

"Energy: 300 Million Years" from the Under Glass series by Melissa Fleming. Credit: Melissa Fleming

“Energy: 300 Million Years” from the Under Glass series by Melissa Fleming. Credit: Melissa Fleming