The ecoartspace blog will feature artist profiles and reviews of exhibitions, as well as writings on ecological systems. We are interested in presenting work that artists are making in collaboration with scientists, and poetics including spoken word, opera, and performative work. Painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography, drawing, and printmaking are all welcome media. Speculative architecture and public art are also encourage. Submissions for posts can be sent to We look forward to hearing from you!

You can access the previous ecoartspace blog HERE (2008-2019)

ecoartspace, LLC

Mailing address: PO Box 5211 Santa Fe, New Mexico 87502
  • Sunday, May 01, 2022 8:06 AM | ecoartspace (Administrator)

    Gene A. Felice II, Jennifer Parker, and Juniper Harrower
    Visions of Algae, installation views, 2022.
    Photos : Bradley Pierce, UNCW, courtesy of Cameron Art Museum

    The Algae Society just finished a run of two exhibitions. The Confluence exhibition at the Cameron Arts Museum in Wilmington, North Carolina, January 28 – April 24, 2022 featured sculptural, interactive works, video projections, kinetic works, and rapid prototyping, all featuring algae from the microscopic scale of phytoplankton to the giant kelp forests of the Pacific Northwest and the Confluir Exhibition at the Facultad de Bellas Artes Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Sala de Exposiciones del Salon de Actos Feb 9th-March 9th 2022. 
 The Algae Society embraces a sustainable and equitable path for human+algal relationships and the complex roles in climate change these are manifesting. In this interview Ken Rinaldo chats with members about the Algae Society and their formation and approaches as well as recent curatorial adventures.

    Questions: by Ken Rinaldo
    Where did you meet, and how did the Algae Society come together with its members? How many members are there, and who are they?

    Jennifer Parker: The majority of the Algae Society members worked with me in the OpenLab collaborative research center when they were graduate students at the University of California Santa Cruz. Gene Felice was part of a larger project that I was working on in 2012 called Blue Trail in San Francisco. Gene pitched an idea to work with phytoplankton as part of that initiative known as Oceanic Scales and everything sort of evolved from there. Gene and I worked together for about four years on Oceanic Scales and then when we had an opportunity to exhibit in a children’s museum in southern California, we took the foundation of what we had been building and opened it up to other members and then new connections opened and more people joined to form The Algae Society as we know it today.

    Gene Felice:  Our full members list can be viewed here: Our core group is made up of seven members from around the globe that have been collaborating for the past three years.  Our collaborative group has grown organically, starting with the initial members that Jennifer brought together and then additional members either finding us online or being friends or a colleague of another member with similar interests in algae within the arts & sciences.  Over the past five years, we have shared vocabularies, built trust and learned from each other while navigating the challenges of creating collaborative, art & science focused art across international borders.
    What do artists and scientists need to learn from each other, what did you feel you learned in this experience, and what realizations do you think the scientists have discovered? Can you give me examples?

    Dr. Juniper Harrower: I think art as science communication is fun and interesting, but falls short of what can be accomplished if we are talking about structural or institutional changes. Another common issue that comes up is art in the service of science, artists often becoming a hired hand or general PR for science and feeling obliged to create art that the scientist or institution approves of. While artists can engage in early stage R&D with science experiments and come up with some interesting questions or approaches they also really lack the fundamental skills and language to engage deeply with science methodology that people spend decades wrapping their heads around within their scientific discipline. I also see that many artists generally misunderstand what science even is as a discipline (and what scientists do) and scientists often greatly simplify what the arts has to offer as a research path, so there are misconceptions that are to be expected within each of the different disciplines. This can sometimes result in artists misinterpreting or simplifying systems or stories in ways that frustrate the science community and then makes them dismissive of art as a research practice. But artists can ask questions that are not considered by scientists or can dig into institutional dynamics, question power structures, problematize the western scientific approach, and approach meaning making in ways that scientists do not have skill sets for. Artists can reframe and bring attention to different ways of thinking and knowing beings, communities, and ecological spaces that science methodology does not make space for, and draw attention to modes of questioning and scientific methodologies that are flawed as an approach to respecting life forms. I am also interested in the slippage between science and mysticism and the interesting spaces that can arise when we consider the search for "objective" truths in science (who's truth?) and the methods with which we look for them as we try to make sense of life on this planet.

    I think there is a lot of emphasis put on identifying how the arts has/can measurably impact science, like examples of artist interventions that led shifts in the way that a scientist approached a project. While there are those examples out there, I think the much more interesting potential (and really the long game) comes in how an artistic approach to understanding and thinking about the world could fundamentally alter how the scientific community approaches working with life and beings. Ethics and representation, and how to consider histories of oppression and violence that form the discipline of science. Rethinking the "science gaze".

    I think the algae society is just starting to lean more into some of these questions - like what does it mean to actually collaborate with other organisms in respectful ways? - and that the work will continue to get even more exciting as we continue to grow!

    The Algae Society
    Wall Cells, installation view, 2022.
    Photo : Bradley Pierce, UNCW, courtesy of Cameron Art Museum

    Besides the fact that Algae provides between 50-80% of the oxygen we breathe on the planet, why are Algae important to the art-viewing and general audience?

    Jennifer Parker: They are just so beautiful and magical but often overlooked - bringing algae into traditional art spaces opens new pathways for thinking about living systems around us as part of our cultural fabric and common heritage.

    Gene Felice: The Algae Society attempts to tell stories about algae through art & science collaborative experiences that make the normally invisible aspects of life on our planet a bit more visible for humans to witness.  If we can begin by alluring the public with the aesthetic and functional beauty of algae, the hope is that they will make more informed choices that ultimately impact the health of our water and the life on this planet that depends upon it.
    Why are algae important to our oceans and planet?

    Jennifer Parker: They are a super special and diverse aquatic organism. They are critical to life on the planet. They lack roots, stems, and leaves so they are very different from other organisms that photosynthesize? - they occur in a huge variety of shapes and sizes and are found in a range of aquatic habitats both freshwater and saltwater. They also are very efficient at using carbon dioxide keeping the atmospheric levels stable.

    Dr. Jose Carlos Espinel: I think the impact of algae in our life is much bigger than we tend to think, they do not only produce the oxygen that we breathe but are very important organisms for the different ecosystems where they are present. The exhibition itself works as a tribute to algae. The term “mother nature” talks about some kind of intangible entity that takes care of life on earth and keeps its circle working, looking after the environment and all the living organisms on earth. The term itself leads us to some kind of mystic creature or being, bigger than our self and above our own comprehension. We could be talking about some kind of goddess and in this sense I believe algae could perfectly be acting as some sort of divine being.

    Gene Felice: Algae filters much of the air that we breathe turning CO2 into O2, but they’re also the base of our planet’s aquatic food web.  Micro algae serve as the photosynthesizing foundation of food for zooplankton, then fish, marine / fresh water mammals and onward. For example, phytoplankton serve as the food source for zooplankton known as copepods which serve as the food source for krill which serves as the food source for one of the largest mammals on the planet, blue whales.  Quickly we can see and feel the impact that algae have on all of the organisms on our planet, particularly ones that humans have great affinity for.  
    Many of the works in the exhibition seem to have been produced with the environment in mind, i.e., not using toxic petroleum-based varnishes, etc. Can you tell us more about the guiding principles for the Confluence Exhibition?

    Jennifer Parker: We try our best to use sustainable materials with as low an impact on the environment as possible - it's also a challenge of sorts - as we question our choices and seek alternative materials and methods - we always ask ourselves if it is necessary to make something and what is the value of that something is on our communities? How is it contributing to bettering our environment physically now and in the future? What is the impact of our work, how does it contribute to the waste streams, energy systems, and the future health of ecosystems we work in? - we try to have the smallest footprint possible but it's really hard.

    David Harris: Many sustainably focused projects concentrate on how they use resources. Algae is often seen as a sustainable resource in increasing amounts of food, bioplastic, and other products. However, as soon as something becomes just a resource, it becomes open to exploitation. In the Algae Society, we are interested in reconsidering this dynamic so that we consider algae as a partner in our efforts to preserve a livable world. It means considering the short- and long-term needs of algae as well as humans, so that entire ecosystems can thrive. This post-human perspective is a challenge because we don’t even have good language to discuss it let alone yet understand what algal equivalents of rights, ethics, justice, or any other similar human concepts might be applicable.

    Gene Felice: When creating a project that seeks harmony within our aquatic ecosystems, it feels counterproductive and hypocritical if the project is made from materials and processes that ultimately pollute those environments. While it can be difficult and expensive to have a zero carbon footprint or to use absolutely all local / biodegradable materials, we do our best to seek out a variety of materials, processes and technologies with biodegradability and ecological impact in mind.  For confluence this included 3D Printing material made from corn and wood, seaweed dipped in a mix of beeswax, pine resin and Jojoba oil, sculptural forms made from local cypress wood and CNC’d plywood made with soy based adhesives and finished with Shellac.  Instead of plastic window panels we cast our own forms from pine resin and tinted them with Spirulina powder and other mineral based pigments.

    What do you feel worked best in this exhibition, and were there any surprises as you installed the works?

    Jennifer Parker: That's hard to say - so many of the works are informed by each other - picking just one out would limit its value - the work in the show is valued as a collection dependent on one another to tell a rich and vibrant algal story.  Just like our collaborative efforts as a collective of humans, we influence one another through shared experience and conversation -we are always looking to expand and push our ideas to be more relevant and interesting - the work in the exhibition is an extension of our collective conversations with each other, conversations that now include the museum visitors in direct conversation with the work.

    Gene Felice: One of the most collaborative pieces from the show is Visions of Algae.  The concept for this project bounced between three of us (myself, Jennifer & Juniper) as well as feedback and ideas from all of the Algae Society as it progressed.  It started as a ceiling installation but then shifted as we moved into the high ceiling Studio 1 space at the Cameron Art museum.  It then became a floor based piece made modularly with different components being created on both the east and west coast of the U.S.  Juniper curated the archive of images from all of the Algae Society and beyond and with Jennifer printed them on Japanese rice paper and then dipped them in an encaustic process.  I prototyped and 3D printed the lens ring forms that hold the images as well as the CNC milled bases with aluminum rods and fixtures.  This combination of sensibilities, skill sets and conceptual frameworks across the group, resulted in a collaborative installation that can adapt to a variety of spaces and configurations based on site specific needs.  A lovely surprise was when we installed Visions of Algae into the Cameron Art Museum and realized the morning light through the large corner window illuminates the encaustic dipped images, giving them a warm, translucent glowing quality.  At night they also served as dynamic projection surfaces, back lit from a projector used for the Bioluminescent Thursday event series.

    Many museums would be reluctant to have living algae or bio artworks within a museum. Was this controversial for the Cameron Arts Museum to accept these elements as part of the Confluence Exhibition?

    Jennifer Parker: The Cameron Art Museum is a fantastic place. The director was really open and responsive to all of our ideas. With all the work we do there is a certain level of trust required by the venues as the work is definitely not your typical art exhibition. We want people to pick up work and interact with it, to come back and see what has evolved and changed since their last visit. The work for us is very alive in this way - literally and figuratively

    Gene Felice: The Cameron Art Museum and its curatorial staff are both innovative and open minded when it comes to new modes of experiencing art. From experiential groups like Team Lab to our unique blend of eco / bio art, they welcomed us with open arms.  Their mission includes major site specific themes such as history and environment and the Algae Society became a perfect fit for the CAM to explore its connections with our local / global water issues, within our particular focus on algae.  The museum itself is a stunning environment to create within and the Studio 1 space fits our work in ways that we didn’t fully realize until we were installing.  The staff at the Cameron worked with us to create a mix of light and dark spaces as well as a window installation space that can transform at night into a double sided video projection mapped wall of light.  Their flexibility allowed us to evolve the show to the space throughout its run, adding new pieces and shifting and adapting experimental work as it evolved through its life cycle. The retention pond on the grounds of the Cameron extended the work beyond the gallery to include our long term, Floating Island Ecosystem bioremediation project.

    Do you feel the viewing and interacting audience was able to find a new love of Algae in its myriad of forms?

    Jennifer Parker: I hope so! It was our intention to show really diverse works in a variety of media types to spark interest and curiosity with a broad audience inclusive of all ages and backgrounds.

    Gene Felice: Our intention is to allure through multi-sensory experiences that foster compelling questions in the minds of our audience. What makes such complex forms?  How is it possible that algae produces so much for us (air, food, etc.)?  How do our choices affect this multifaceted range of organisms? By cultivating these questions through a multitude of approaches and materials, we hope to reach across multi-generational and political / social divides. One of the most inspiring parts of working in the Cameron Art Museum is that each day the museum welcomes school trips from elementary through middle school as well as families with middle aged parents and babies and older generations of empty nesters and retirees. Each of these groups brings a different set of experiences and questions in relation to our work and the connections between human beings and algae.  Some of these questions overlap and others inform each other in new and unexpected ways, shaping the way we evolve our art and science focused work in the future.
    How do you imagine the Algae Society could recreate this Confluence Exhibition at other venues?

    Jennifer Parker: Working with local residents, creatives in the arts and sciences is one way that we connect and co-create in each of the venues we have exhibited. This includes different types of regional and local algae at the micro and macro levels.

    Dr. Jose Carlos Espinal: In this case, the Confluence show had a sister exhibition in Madrid, “Confluir” at the Faculty of Fine Arts at Universidad Complutense, where graduate students developed works related to algae and aquatic environments and the impact of human activity on those. Works developed there were mainly focused on a local level, but keeping a global mindset.

    David Harris: Algae Society exhibitions so far have exhibited an ebb and flow of works, with a view to engaging with the needs and interests of communities local to the exhibitions. As we engage different communities around the world, the specific works shown with unique local collaborators help present different emphases but within the broader agenda of the society. For example, we have in mind a future exhibition in Australia that would include a strong connection to and critical involvement of local indigenous peoples and knowledge systems, while also connecting with a robust local institutional research effort.

    Gene Felice: The Algae Society is a global collaborative that seeks new questions and art making challenges in each community that it connects with. Confluence was designed to break down into a series of modular parts that can be easily shipped and adapted to new spaces in the future with as low of a carbon footprint as possible. Some projects can be sent digitally and fabricated on site with the tools at hand.  Projects like Wall Cells are curatable micro-spaces that can speak and connect to site specific conditions and local ecosystems.  Visions of Algae breaks down into a series of flat shipping containers, to reduce space and shipping costs.

    Are there other contemporary art science/movements or artists you admire and look to as models for what could be?

    Jennifer Parker: That’s a great question. I’m interested in restorative design as a creative practice for imagining new futures of materials using natural resources that protect and restore biodiversity of ecosystems.

    Gene Felice: Each Algae Society has their own influences, but here is a short list of art & science groups / artists / architects / collaboratives that have inspired me during the production of Confluence:
    What is next for the Algae Society?

    Jennifer Parker: We are in conversation with venues in different parts of the world to exhibit and develop new works and exhibitions in the future - we welcome interested parties reach out and connect

    Gene Felice: We’re ready to develop new, site specific work as Jennifer mentioned and we’re also ready to adapt the Confluence show to its next location in a museum, gallery, science center or non-traditional space.  More importantly, we seek to connect to aquatic ecosystems in need of a voice or a new connection for asking questions that foster balance and understanding between human and nonhuman needs.

    Ken Rinaldo
    Algae Sign, 2022.
    Photo : Bradley Pierce, UNCW, courtesy of Cameron Art Museum

  • Saturday, April 30, 2022 9:42 AM | ecoartspace (Administrator)

    Andrea Bersaglieri, Front 2021, Oil on Canvas, Photo Courtesy of the Artist

    The Gift of Growing Things: Andrea Bersaglieri’s Dirt, Weeds, Fire

    Antelope Valley College Art Gallery, Lancaster
    Through April 1, 2022

    Written by Genie Davis for Art and Cake

    Andrea Bersaglieri can make even a clod of dirt look beautiful and did so at Antelope Valley College Art Gallery in Lancaster. Dirt, Weeds, Fire offered detailed looks at trees, plants, weeds, and yes, dirt, observations of nature taken from her own yard. Undertaking a documentation of the new ecosystems evolving through climate change and other environmental impacts, non-indigenous species, and the like, she reveals the delicate, transitional aspect of all nature – new, and old.

    According to Bersaglieri, “My work has increasingly been focused on my immediate surroundings, literally my own yard, looking for evidence – of what, I am not sure. During the pandemic this just became amplified…a lot of the work was done during the pandemic in this very insular environment.”

    She considers her work to be documentarian, and the intimacy and detail of these works in watercolor and as charcoal or ink drawings, is careful and exquisite. Seeing the works exhibited in the high desert, she found to be enlightening. She says that the high desert backdrop of the college gallery space, “with all of the sprawl and traffic and open space, helps contextualize [what] I would imagine the LA Basin [would] look like – without all of the irrigation we apply.”

    The artist grew up in the bay area and was surprised by the lack of trees in the Los Angeles area when she first moved south. “Here, when you see a big tree, you’re like ‘oh, wow! look at that tree!! Isn’t it amazing!’ My work started reflecting that amazement of nature. But when I go home to visit, there are so many trees it’s almost humdrum, the trees are a dime a dozen, less special. You don’t appreciate things unless their scarcity draws attention to them, causing you to look more closely.”

    Continue reading here

  • Monday, April 25, 2022 9:00 AM | Anonymous


    April 25, 2022

    This week we recognize the work of artist  Tattfoo Tan.

    “Responding to issues of health, ecology and climate change, I work across social, cultural, and artistic practices. My unique art making practice focuses on learning and mastering new skills and forms of knowledge, developing effective replicable teaching systems, and inspiring the public to take action. Learn-Practice-Teach.”

    NMS­­—Nature Matching System was developed by Tattfoo as a reminder to consume your daily recommended doses of color. The shades of color displayed at farmers’ markets are more than skin deep, reflecting the inner potential of every fruit and vegetable; intense colors might even be called nature’s nutrition labels. They get many of their colors from phytonutrients, compounds that play key roles in health and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. The more colors come together at a meal, the better. Sadly, marketers of junk food apply the same technique used by nature to pollinate seed to their nutrition-deprived product. Color is a device that can do good or be deceptive and ensure the pollination of unhealthy eating habits. The colors shown below are all actual food colors, taken from photographs of various fruits and vegetables. Match your meal to the placemat—it is truly a rainbow connection.

    “Sustainable. Organic. Stewardship. is a multifaceted and year-long horticulture and cultivation project that includes social, cultural and artistic practices. By acknowledging the shortage of food on the global scale, we should look at how we eat, what we eat and how we can grow our own food and understand the origin of food and the labor, the politics that are involved in growing these perishable items that we consume that have direct effect on our health and well-being.

    “I enrolled myself in various green courses and acquiring certification for my green knowledge, in order to flaunt my new found title in the form of a merit patch on my gray coverall and wear it during events and gardening sessions. I'm intrigued by the certification of knowledge and the power that was bestowed by the agency that gave the certificate. I am partly propelled by the thirst of knowledge and partly to sustain the endurance of going to classes and community service requirements of these courses.”

    “S.O.S. Pledge is a unique artwork that is based in a concept, a mission, a promise that carries it message and virtue formless across all medium and platform that suit the budget, aesthetic, size and location of it's custodian and proudly display in a public area. It has been reborn as a marble mural in a school, a plywood board in a community garden, a handkerchief for portability and even as a temporary tattoo.”

    S.O.S. Pledge


    Tattfoo Tan's practice focuses on issues relating to ecology, sustainability and healthy living. His work is project-based, ephemeral and educational in nature. Tan has exhibited at venues including the Queens Museum of Art, Eugene Lang College at the New School for Liberal Arts, Parsons the New School for Design, the Fashion Institute of Technology, 601 Tully: Center for Engaged Art and Research at Syracuse University, Macalester College, Ballroom Marfa, Creative Time, Aljira Center for Contemporary Art, Project Row Houses, and the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati. Tan has been widely recognized for his artistic contributions and service to the community, and is the proud recipient of a proclamation from The City of New York. In 2010, Tan received the annual Award for Excellence in Design by the Public Design Commission of the City of New York for his design and branding of the Super-Graphic on Bronx River Art Center. He currently serves on the Mayor's Citizens' Advisory Committee to support the development of a Comprehensive Cultural Plan and as NYFA's Artists Advisory

    Featured Images: ©Tattfoo Tan, Nature Matching System Mural, Port Authority Bus Terminal (2008); Nature Matching System Placemat (2007); Nature Matching System Fruit Labels; S.O.S. Steward Uniform (2009); S.O.S. Pledge at PS971, Brooklyn, New York (2010).

  • Monday, April 18, 2022 9:00 AM | Anonymous


    April 18, 2022

    This week we recognize the work of artist  Christy Rupp.

    "The way we choose to identify with habitat creates our reality. It is this concept, the framing of our opinions of nature, that fuels my studio practice. Like most baby boomers in post war America, Walt Disney films introduced me to nature, framing my ideas about the environment. Here, majestic nature is presented as a resource. In Bambi’s world, man and deer can’t coexist. We are locked in conflict. That’s an old myth that has gotten us deeply in debt to the environment. Science is where the ideas begin, but I would like my art practice to dive deeper into people’s daily experience."

    "[Filters and Inverts was] made to collect sediment from the unprecedented turbid releases dumped into the Esopus Creek in spring of 2021. Climate change comes home to the NYC watershed, as we are again made aware of NYC’s amnesia in planning for resiliency amid increasing weather events. There is more mud washing into the Ashokan Reservoir than ever before. NYC Department of Environmental Protection has chosen to release dirty water downstream while filtering clean water bound for NYC faucets. Mud-laden water released into the otherwise healthy creek severely affects water quality, reducing levels of light and oxygen within the water. Fine sediment also physically impacts the stream channel by filling in the natural voids and spaces in the stream bed. This reduces habitat for aquatic insects and smothers fish eggs and larvae.

    I wanted to collect some of the mud coming down the creek and started making these in spring as we were witnessing the creek run brown for months at a time, as in recent years. The structures are unbleached muslin and steel, and mimic the appearance and behavior of resident filter feeding organisms like mayflies, snails, and leeches. The brown filters were in the water for a few weeks in spring 2021, the clean ones are for spring 2022. Believing that water should be clean only for human consumption is an assault on the rights of nature.”

    “After looking at viral organisms, I became curious about man-made pollutants that dwell close to us, the chemicals in our new homes, our clothes, our foods. Unlike viruses which you can see under a microscope, molecules are theoretical, orbiting each other, always on the move. I wanted to make them tangible, to try to understand how they behave, as they create things like odors and sickness.

    Working with a chemistry professor, we made drawings of Toxic Molecules, like the cancer causing chemicals dioxin and formaldehyde. He also explained how new inventions like Olestra, the fake fat, actually work in our bodies, to initiate tiny changes that occur at the invisible, molecular level. I teamed up some of these contaminants with natural forms—for example the spinal column of a rainforest newt was replaced with a chain of nitric acid (acid rain) molecules. Or, using the Olestra structure, I integrated it with a filter-feeding squid and an abstracted human digestive system, to demonstrate how this new ”miracle” molecule can sweep everything out as it washes speedily through our system, making it possible to gorge and starve at the same time. Only in America. Miroscopic micro organisms, these were inspired also by one my favorite artists, Juan Miro."

    “Although Homo Sapiens are not innately selfish, our lust to dominate has brought us to a place where we all are threatened. Animal behavior has provided me a portal to the understanding of tipping and collapse, because animals are our reflection, and our partners. No longer a predictable seasonal event, today migration has become risky and inconsistent, as organisms of all sizes and complexity are driven in search of survival. Humans, microbes, as well as birds and mammals get caught in the crossfire of manmade ecological wreckage. The climate crisis is a crisis of the imagination, which we haven’t yet grasped. Being a species so adept at denial that a vision of the apocalypse is a welcome distraction from being in the present, we are in debt as well as in denial."

    Christy Rupp is an American eco-artist and community scientist. Born in the Rust Belt of Upstate New York, she was too young for Elvis and too old for Barbie. For the past five decades Rupp has continued the search for clues that might explain how we have arrived at the edge of the Extractocene, a world permanently altered by the presence of Homo sapiensRupp was part of the artist collective Collaborative Projects (Colab) - organizer of the historic Times Square Show - as well as ABC No Rio and other East Village-era artist groups. Her solo show "Othered" opens April 21, 2022 at Howl! Happening, in New York City.

    Featured Images: ©Christy Rupp, "Protein Fix" (1995), "Filters and Inverts" (2021), "Spinning (Glyphosate)" (1998), cut paper collage from "Snapshot" series (2020), "Climate Sink" (2008).

    Below: Portrait of Christy Rupp by Katvan Studios

  • Saturday, April 16, 2022 1:57 AM | ecoartspace (Administrator)

    (Ecological City-Procession for Climate Solutions Photo Credit: Rachel-Elkind)

    Pageantry as Climate Activism: Let Their Voices Sing in Bursts of Color to Support the Earth

    Interview by Olivia Ann Carye Hallstein

    Earth Celebration’s Ecological City pageant in the Lower-East Side Manhattan supports resilience efforts put forth by the community through art integration. The residents of the Lower East Side have developed an inspiring sustainable urban ecosystem involving various climate solution initiatives. Felicia Young, the community organizer behind the arts integration component of the project, discusses the importance of arts and theater as a form of community engagement and activism. 

    So much about this pageant is about real policy issues effecting the community. In which ways can art act in a symbiotic relationship to planning and policy efforts like the ones you are highlighting?

    Art has the ability to inspire and engage people to connect emotionally with the world around them -- places, issues and challenges. It is from that emotional connection and deeper understanding of issues and the places they are rooted in, that can inspire and engage people in action for change.

    In 1990, when the 60 community gardens on the Lower East Side of New York City were being threatened with destruction by proposed development plans, I thought I could apply creating public theatrical pageants with processions as a public participatory art form to mobilize an effort to preserve the gardens in my neighborhood. The artistic pageant could provide a powerful and public forum for the community to tell its story. This would affirm their narrative that was counter to the city view at the time, that viewed the gardens as vacant lots to be developed. The city officials had not acknowledged that the act of urban improvisation and revitalization by a low-income community to transform the vacant rubble strewn lots (that were a consequence of city neglect throughout the 1970’s) into magnificent gardens – was an irreplaceable benefit that had become vital to the community’s culture, health, safety and well-being.

    The pageant gave voice and visibility to the community that felt powerless in the face of the mighty developers and real estate interests that seemed to control the overall city agenda. The pageant became a 15-year annual collaborative arts project. The arts provided a bridge and an accessible form to mobilize action on the issue, engage diverse sectors of the community to work together creatively and build a powerful grassroots coalition effort. This led to policy change with the preservation of hundreds of community gardens throughout New York City, when Mayor Bloomberg transferred many gardens from HPD (NYC Housing Preservation and Development) to the NYC Parks Department in 2002. This offering them protection from development plans.

    (East River Park Spirit- City Hall Hearing)

    Fantastic that art has been able to create lasting change! In a video interview for Earth Celebration’s Ecological City, you mention that arts-based organizing can engage a wider population than raw activism alone. How have you noticed increased engagement and what have some of these wider effects been?

    The collaborative and participatory art projects and theatrical pageant have engaged youth, schools, families, organizations representing diverse special interests and sectors of the neighborhood, as well as the core stakeholders such as the gardeners. If that effort had started as a protest, it would have been a small group of activists engaged and not the larger community. Many of the participants got introduced to the effort and issue through the cultural activity.

    Protests can project an angry energy and alienate the very community one is trying to engage. People participated because they could express and tell the stories of these magnificent gardens that were about to be demolished, and do that through joyous affirmation, visual art and performances celebrating them and their meaning within the neighborhood.

    The artistic forum of the pageant was a safe zone, where various groups, who often did not communicate, could come together for a common goal and collectively communicate through a public cultural expression. Within the pageant the community enacted each year, not only the battle with developers, but also the preservation of the gardens with the release of 50 live butterflies by the butterfly children and nature spirits. This theatrical story did not end at the pageants close, as it built a grassroots coalition effort that continued beyond the framework of the pageant and led over the years to effective policy change.

    (Waterfront Procession, Photo: Rachel Elkind)

    There are so many people involved. In fact, The Earth Celebrations: Ecological City is hosting many varied workshops with local artists. How are some of these projects engaging with their surroundings in unique ways?

     For our Ecological City-Art & Climate Solutions Project, 3 months of bi-weekly workshops engage community participants to collaborate with our artists-in-residence, creating visual art, giant puppets and costumes that explore local sites and their climate solution initiatives. The artistic works are presented in the culminating Ecological City-Procession for Climate Solutions featuring a spectacular 5-hour procession with 20 sustainability site performances celebrating the climate solutions throughout the community gardens, neighborhood and waterfront.

     After Hurricane Sandy, the community gardens we helped preserve, proved their new role mitigating climate impacts by absorbing flood water and providing a myriad of urban climate solutions -- from plants and soil sequestering carbon and trees filtering polluted air and cooling urban temperatures, to green infrastructure of bio-swales mitigating run-off and ponds collecting rainwater, as well as vital urban sustainable agriculture. While these local climate solutions were thriving, many residents could walk past a garden without knowing how they were connected to their importance in mitigating city or global climate challenges.

    GOLES (an organization engaged in low-income housing issues as well as coastal resiliency) collaborated with Earth Celebrations’ theater Director Drew Vanderberg to create a performance about surviving hurricane Sandy. The participants were residents from the NYCHA city housing along waterfront that was severely impacted. They performed their story within the pageant and documentation of the performance was presented within city council – land use planning hearings.

    The Mobile Mural -LES Sustainable Solutions engaged community through workshops to create a 50-foot-long mural consisting of 5 panels presenting the architectural features and community vision for the East River Park. The workshops engaged numerous partners at various locations throughout the neighborhood to research and collaborate on the painting of the community vision plan, that the city administration was abruptly dismissing, for a new plan that would demolish the entire park including mature trees and habitat for numerous species. The mobile mural was featured in the procession and at various rallies, press conferences and city hall hearings.

    (River Grass Portrait Photo: Rachel Elkind)

    So much of sustainability is also community related, how have you expanded local efforts beyond climate resilience and into community resilience in the face of climate disaster?

    Climate resilience and community resilience are one. It is the people, their lives, their community and neighborhood that are all impacted by climate change. We have directly experienced this on the Lower East Side, a low-income neighborhood on the frontline of climate impacts due to flooding, sea level rise, pollution, as well as displacement from market rate development. The city administration has been engaged in a top-down approach to many sustainability, urban planning issues and policies, with the wealthy developers interests and goals for profit as a driving force. Former Mayor DeBlasio announced New York City is officially upholding the Paris Climate Accord with goals of reducing carbon along with billions for green infrastructure projects. At the same time his policies are destroying grassroots community generated climate solutions that communities have created free of cost to the city, such as the plan to destroy the Elizabeth Street Garden in Soho/Nolita.

    (Ecological City: Waterfront Closing Tableaux Photo: Rachel Elkind)

    How has the unique community of the Lower East Side contributed to the inspiration and execution of a project of this scale?

    The Lower East Side is a community of inspiring cultural diversity with residents representing various interests and backgrounds. It has been a neighborhood of immigrant communities for hundreds of years that shaped its culture with a mix of traditions, as well as the artists from all over the world that have made the Lower East Side their home. Earth Celebrations projects have grown out of the community issues, struggles and achievements related to these contested public spaces, gardens and parks. These spaces still exist and thrive because of how the community is deeply rooted in shaping its future through its creative and collective strength.

    (Felicia Young: Earth Celebrations & Ecological City Director Portrait Photo: Rachel Elkind)

    Lastly, what is your vision beyond this festival as both an individual and an organization?

    For over 30 years, I have pursued a vision and quest to create framework and cultural action projects, where the arts were applied to engage communities to confront local environmental crises. Through participatory and collaborative arts my vision is to mobilize action on solutions and ecological, policy and social change.

    Cultural strategies that proved successful included ritual based collaborative and community-engage art; with both the partnership-building creative collaborative action it generated, as well as actual policy change that the effort led to with the preservation of hundreds of community gardens. The theatrical pageant art form worked to provide a collaborative creative process that engaged the community. The a culminating public forum throughout the streets was significant for sites embedded with the histories, struggles, achievements and common goals for the community’s future.
    Art has the ability to inspire and engage people to connect emotionally with the world around them -- places, issues and challenges. It is from that emotional connection, deeper understanding and visceral experience, that can inspire action for change.

    Art does not only reflect life but can affect it too — and engage people to connect with what is and imagine what is possible. I have found that by engaging a community in an artistic expression, that is a collaborative co-created public cultural action, that the community is enabled to reaffirm their collective goals --- and then move from the experience of this artistic expression and theatrical reality, into real life action, impact and change.

  • Monday, April 11, 2022 9:00 AM | Anonymous


    April 11, 2022

    This week we recognize the work of artist  Olivia Ann Carye Hallstein.

    "I am lucky enough to interview members of this community of long-standing environmental practitioners each month. Over the course of the last few years, this community and my own local community has inspired me to navigate my practice more towards elements of sustainability by teaching classes and workshops surrounding materials, sourcing, practice development and community resilience."

    "Through this experience there have been some overarching themes that continue to reveal themselves in this quest toward a responsible and conscious practice. Topics that permeate throughout the systems surrounding arts and design practices like production, materials, and waste management that are often left out of arts curricula."

    Carye Hallstein has developed a working list of guidelines for artists to refer to in continually striving toward eco-consciousness and sustainability.

    "I have realized that the content of a work is only a small piece of the larger puzzle surrounding the conception and influence that a work has on our environments, our communities, and our own well-beings. No practice can be all these things, but if we each strive towards two of each of these goals for each category, we will be well on our ways toward really standing and acting in the interest of environmental justice and community resilience."

    Carye Hallstein's Sustainable Practice Guidelines for the Arts is broken down into five categories: Materials and SourcingProductionContentInfluence, and Waste Management. Each category contains a working list of guidelines meant to accompany artists on their journeys towards the goal of sustainability. Examples range from choosing materials sourced from fair trade practices, to ensuring that the content of the work produced creates awareness for the environment or for an ecosystem, to striving to repurpose all waste produced from one's studio practice.

    She will be teaching a course based on these guidelines from May 24th to June 6th (Tuesday/Thursday/Sunday) that will cover artistic practices from material to production to concept to waste.

    Register for the course HERE.

    Olivia Ann Carye Hallstein is a Cambridge-based internationally exhibited artist and educator who has practiced professionally since 2010 at age 19. She writes articles for ecoartspace, is a Royal Society of Arts Fellow, and works regularly for SMFA at Tufts University. Her studio, the "Edible Nest Studio" (founded 2021) in Cambridge, MA works to create whole systems and integrated approaches to the practice of both design and culinary fields. Exhibition highlights include: Maxim-Gorki Theater, Deutsches Theater, LA54, Uferhallen, RAW Temple, Der Kanal, BAT theater, TIK Theater, the MFA Boston, Piano Craft Gallery, Tufts university, Nature of Cities Festival, and Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute.

    Featured Images: ©Olivia Ann Carye Hallstein, "Taste of Coconut Water (detail)" from the Taste Test Series (2021), "Pokeberry Sketch" from Lifespans: Natural Dyes (2021), "Orange Medley" from Lifespans: Fruits & Berries (2022), "Blackberry Love Circle" from Lifespans: Fruits & Berries (2022).

  • Monday, April 04, 2022 9:00 AM | Anonymous


    April 4, 2022

    This week we recognize the work of artist Sant Khalsa.

    "I am an artist and activist whose work derives from mindful inquiry into complex environmental and societal issues. It is my intention to create a contemplative space where one can sense the subtle and profound connections between themselves, the natural world and our constructed landscapes."

    "Intimate Landscapes was my first series of photographs of the California environment, created in 1982-1983. These photographs were made in response to relocating to San Bernardino after growing up in New York City. I was hypersensitive to the dramatic change in my surroundings and felt displaced, yet I was intrigued by a new experience of space, light, and terrain utterly foreign to me. I began to photograph the landscape as a means of investigating, interpreting, and expressing my sense of place."

    "I often refer to the Santa Ana River as 'my river.' Never intending 'my' to allude to ownership or control but rather an intimate relationship one develops over time with a lover or a dear old friend. The Santa Ana River serves as a source of vital sustenance for my body, mind, and creative spirit. The river is the life source that nourishes the earth and every living and human cell in the community I reside. The river has taught me the critical interdependence between humans and the natural world and inspires me to make art that reflects on my life experience and relationship with place.

    Paving Paradise refers to the current state of the river and the conflicting terrain of natural riverbeds and dams, flood plains and tract home communities, riparian wetlands and concrete channels. I was first drawn to the Santa Ana because of its natural beauty -- the vast open landscape, the starkness of its often-dry riverbeds and the power of its occasional rushing waters. The river remains a source of creative inspiration as I continue to depict the critical role it plays within the region, my home since 1975."

    New Book of Photographs by Sant Khalsa: 

    Crystal Clear - Western Waters

    Before Flint, before ever-expansive wildfires annually ravaged her home state of California and much of the west coast, yet after the popular introduction of bottled water to the American consciousness in the 1990s, Sant Khalsa discovered a store called Water Shed through her ongoing research on issues pertaining to water in the west, and photographed it. That was the first of what would become her series “Western Waters.” The sixty gelatin-silver photographs, made between 2000 and 2002, depict water stores in Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California, and Southern Nevada. At that time, Khalsa said of this work: “the photographs will serve in the future as a historical document of either a fleeting fad, or the foundation of what will become commonplace in our society.

    Twenty years have passed since Khalsa completed this photographic project. Bottled water is an over $11 billion dollar industry, yet millions of Americans are daily affected by the lack of access to clean drinking water. The existence of these stores in the early part of the millennium played on human fears and desires—never-ending thirsts—that have become need in a very short period of time.

    Preorder Sant Khalsa's second monograph Crystal Clear - Western Waters now from Minor Matters Books and your name will be printed in the book as a co-publisher.

    Sant Khalsa's photographs, sculptures and installations have been exhibited internationally; her work is in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Center for Creative Photography of Tucson, Nevada Museum of Art, National Galleries of Scotland, and UCR/California Museum of Photography, and others. Khalsa has received fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, California Humanities, and California Arts Council. Khalsa was honored as the inaugural recipient of the Society for Photographic Education's Insight Award for her significant contributions to the field. Khalsa is Professor of Art, Emerita at California State University and one of the founding faculty of the CSUSB Water Resources Institute research center and archive. Her first monograph, Prana: Life With Trees (Griffith Moon), was published in 2019.

    Khalsa hosts the monthly ecoartspace program Tree Talk: Artists Speak for Trees and is the founding director of the Joshua Tree Center for Photographic Arts.

    Featured Images: ©Sant Khalsa, Intimate Landscapes ("East Highland, CA"), Paving Paradise ("Flooding Below Prado Dam," and "Flooding Below Prado Dam, 2005,"), Western Waters ("Montebello, California," "Los Angeles, California," "Somerton, Arizona," and "Covina, California"), and "Vishuddha (Self Portrait)."

  • Friday, April 01, 2022 1:27 PM | ecoartspace (Administrator)

    Site 6, detail of Manzanita interior overlooking downtown Los Angeles, California. Photo by Ken Marchionno.

    Citizen Seeds: A Public Art Project by Kim Abeles

    by Alicia Vogl Saenz

    A crane slowly lifts Kim Abeles’ large sculpture of a Coast Live Oak seed into the October night sky. The full moon glows behind clouds, Los Angeles city lights sprawl out in a stunning view. Abeles, an installation crew, a truck driver, a photographer, a park ranger, a county public art manager, and me are at the top of the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, a California State Park and one of the sites of Abeles’ public art project Citizen Seeds. The park is surprisingly busy at night, especially groups of runners. I’m helping the ranger redirect people and answer questions so that Abeles and the crew won’t be interrupted. The crane arcs over the entrance to the trail, trees and bushes, then hovers over the concrete base dug into the ground to support the sculpture. Although the equipment is enormous, it is not noisy. I can hear rustles of wildlife and the din of cars below. The installation crew has set up bright lights so that the crane operator can precisely place the seed. The ground crew help with navigation, then secure the sculpture with adhesive. Once installed, this six-foot in length, ten-thousand-pound concrete Coast Live Oak seed appears to have randomly fallen next to the trail from an enormous tree. Kim Abeles is beaming with joy.    

    Installation at Site 5 of the Coast Live Oak seed. 

    Installation at Site 5 of the Coast Live Oak seed. The ground crew is navigating the sculpture placement. Nighttime Photos by Alicia Vogl Saenz.
    Citizen Seeds is a series of six sculptures placed in various locations along three miles at the start of the Park to Playa trail. The sculptures are mixed media and portray six plants native to Southern California: Sugar Pine, California Black Oak, Coast Live Oak, Bladderpod, Black Walnut, and Manzanita. Abeles designed the seeds to have a visual presence from afar (sizes range from 6’ to 8’) and serve as a meeting place for trail users. The top of each seed appears to be split open, revealing a map and other design elements. Each map is fashioned in bronze, indicates its location on the trail, and includes the word “Here”. The sculptures then become wayfinding objects.

    Detail of Site 5. Photo by Ken Marchionno.
    “Here” also invites the viewer to slow down for a moment and take in the power of finding themselves immersed in nature while being in the center of urban Los Angeles. Walking has held a special space in Abeles’ artwork. She often walks, plotting areas and incorporates cityscape horizons to her projects and community or classroom workshops. Normally we pass by quickly in our cars. Walking offers participants a fresh viewpoint. Abeles writes in her description of Citizen Seeds: “When walking or stopping for a moment along a trail, we can imagine that there is no beginning or end, rather, a journey’s continuum.”  

    Interior of the Coast Live Oak seed at Site 5. Photo by Ken Marchionno.

    Each seed is unique and features differing design elements. Abeles writes: “The seed interiors speak to the metaphors of personal growth, the journeys we share, and our relationship within nature.” For example, at site 3, located at Kenneth Hahn Park, cast concrete medallions surround the edge of the interior. The medallions were designed by community members in a workshop led by Abeles and are their symbols of growth and journey. The community artists’ names are included in a plaque next to the sculpture.

    Site 3, Bladderpod seed. Photo by Ken Marchionno.
    Site 4 is a California Black Oak seed and is located near the new La Cienega Pedestrian Bridge and the Stoneview Nature Center. Disks of local animal and bird tracks encircle the seed. Tracks made by squirrels, red tail hawks, coyotes, and other wildlife. A concrete relief blueprint of the nature center represents “tracks” left by humans. The first time I saw this seed, I ran my hands along the disks and imagined all the critters. The large scale of each seed made me imagine a bird’s eye or squirrel’s view of a seed. Or, even perhaps, a lizard’s perspective.

    Site 4, California Black Oak seed. Image of interior and labeled details of each animal track. Photo by Ken Marchionno.
    Citizen Seeds is an exemplary public art installation. It has many facets that serve the user. The practical—a meeting place, wayfinding, mapping. Aesthetic—the seeds and their interiors are gorgeous. Impart knowledge and inspire curiosity—Southern California native flora and fauna, community values. Reflection and mindfulness—reminder to slow down, and be “here”. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that creating memories with those we love, respecting human life, and being present in the now are essential to a well lived and joyful life. Interacting with Kim Abeles’ Citizen Seeds inspires me (and I hope you) to remember that simple acts like walking in nature and greeting those I pass—animal, plant, people—can make your day meaningful.

    What simple act gives you joy?

    Site 1, Sugar Pine. Photo by Ken Marchionno

    Alicia Vogl Saenz is a poet, Manager of Family Programs at Los Angeles County Museum in California, meditation instructor, bread maker, yarn lover who brings her love of Los Angeles, mixed immigrant background (ecuaczech) and queer identity to her writing and teaching. She blogs at

  • Friday, April 01, 2022 12:12 PM | ecoartspace (Administrator)

    “Project Precious Trash” (2016), Photo: Fredrik Sederholm

    Preciousness Once Disposed, Reimagined: Johanna Tornqvist

    Interview by Olivia Ann Carye Hallstein

    Johanna Tornqvist applies her studies in folklore and Swedish traditions to contemporary issues related to waste materials and ecological degradation. Her work has expanded to explore the health care industry by including pill packets as material. She uses her Swedish surroundings as well as her international experiences to draw parallels between aesthetics and contemporary lifestyle related issues. Both elaborate and haunting, her fashions sit at the precipice of an industry shrouded in ecological and ethical issues and solutions related to material choice. 

    “Vingklippt” (2014), Photo: Fredrik Sederholm

    what does the human of today have a superfluous of? Trash.

    In your work, you create precious wearable objects out of disposed materials. What was your inspiration to begin this work?

    I was educated as a fashion designer in the 80's, but soon left the fashion industry as I could not cope with their ethics. Further on, I worked with craft in different materials, and I became more and more interested in the ecological and ethical aspect of the fashion industry and wanted to merge this with my craft.

    After my grandmother passed away, I found in her belongings all kinds of materials that she had collected over the years, as you did in the old times. These included buttons, ribbons and laces from old clothes and bedclothes. I thought to myself: she grew up in a time where everything was reused but grew old in a time when everything is bought new. I saw her collecting these objects as treasures and I wanted to make something out of them. Since they were only small and uneven pieces, the work became jewelry.
    Later on, I became more and more radical in my thinking: what happens if I use only the material that we have nearby, as we used to in the old times? Back then it was wool, wood or clay, but what does the human of today have a superfluous of? Trash.

    “Side Effects” (2017), Photo: Tomas Bjorkdal

    I reflected upon how we sometimes need these medications to survive, or to as a way to have a tolerable existence, or just to cope with a modern way of life.

    And nearby materials are so wide ranging! Recently, you have expanded this project to include medical waste materials. How have you forged the connection between jewels and daily medication, a life-saving necessity for many?

    The project Side Effects came at first from the fact that there is an enormous amount of overabundance of disposable materials in the health care industry. As a result of my interest in waste management, I decided to dive into the world of disposable material related to healthcare. This was “in” before the pandemic, but it was very difficult to get hold of material because of potential contamination risk. So, the material I was able to access was medical trash we have in our households, mostly blister packs.
    Due to illness in my proximity that I was personally affected by, I was aware of both the advantages and disadvantages of medication. I reflected upon how we sometimes need these medications to survive, or to as a way to have a tolerable existence, or just to cope with a modern way of life. Those little pills many of us take, are essential in many people’s lives. But there is a lot of disposable material around them and also a lot of transportation costs due to all the air around the blister packs. Medication and chemicals are also prominent in our oceans and in our drinking water. We are beginning to grip more and more the impact these have on our lives in many different aspects.

    “Celestial Twin: röd kopia (2012)

    Nowadays I don´t choose my materials, I use what there is.

    Your fashions often include bright and crocheted or knitted materials or wearable decorations that are reminiscent of folkloric Swedish aesthetics. How have your travels and historical research influenced the style you are creating? Is there something specific in the culture that interests you in the connection to upcycling?

    I have always been inspired by folklore from all over the world. And also surprised by the similarity of many ornamental traditions in many countries even if they exist on opposite sides of the planet.

    Recycling and upcycling have always been part of craft in folklore traditions and are considered a natural way of using materials. It is the present time´s way of exploiting and using up natural resources that is not normal.

    My previous work had a lot of inspiration from different folkloristic traditions. But my work nowadays is more focused on the material I get and find and how I can embellish and make a nonprecious material precious. Nowadays I don´t choose my materials, I use what there is.

    “Project Precious Trash” (2016), Photo: Fredrik-Sederholm

    It is in the way you handle the material, that you make it precious.

    The work you do is a wonderful example of upcycling rather than recycling as it gives the disposed objects a more precious life than when they started. How are you responding to the sustainability of the fashion industry?

    Project Precious Trash was a project I made about clothes and consumption where I highlighted different aspects of the fashion industry. It’s a really dirty business, as many are increasingly aware, both in ethics as well as ecological and social sustainability. My aim has always been - how can we embrace glamor and adornment but still be part of a sustainable lifestyle?

    For many years I have worked with the aspect of what we see as precious versus what we see as useless. And how our point of view has changed over the years.

    I´m also interested in the aspect of craft and how today´s humans have largely lost their skills to work with their hands. Only the work of the brain is promoted. In this part of the world, we have therefore become completely dependent on what is produced at the other side of the world.

    By using trash materials, I want to change focus from the material away from whether it is precious or not. Instead, I would like to highlight the work of the hands. It is in the way you handle the material, that you make it precious.

    Johanna Tornqvist

  • Friday, April 01, 2022 10:46 AM | ecoartspace (Administrator)

    The ecoartspace April 2022 e-Newsletter is HERE

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software