So I had this weird dream

So I had this weird dream the night before last, maybe not any weirder than my usual dreams, but this one in particular had some very strange imagery going on. I was at my parents’ house in their bathroom looking for a spare toothbrush (which happens, because I forget mine), and in walked my dad sporting his usual haircut (bald, shaven) with the addition of a single bean plant sprouting from the back of his head like an antenna. I tried to ignore it because I didn’t want to make him feel awkward, but finally I said, “Dad, you’ve got a bean plant sprouting from the back of your head.” He turned around. “Really? Where?” At that point Alvaro came in and also noticed the bean sprout, and together we managed to dislodge it, which was not gory as you might imagine. It just kind of came out.

That image has stayed with me and yesterday I tried drawing it, but my people drawing skills pretty much stopped at around the eighth grade. Then this evening I did what people do nowadays and started looking around for images to photoshop. I chose the following photo for my dad, because he’s heard from several people that he looks just like Patrick Stewart (“must be the hairline,” he says):

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And then I started looking around for bean sprout photos, such as this one:

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And then I came across this:

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And with this I felt no need to go any further. FYI the article that went along with the photo explains:

People in Beijing have found new usage for bean sprouts, a healthy vegetable packed with plenty of vitamins and proteins. Dubbed #Sproutcore, people have started wearing bean sprouts in their hair. The trend is reportedly popular amongst people of all ages, ranging from young children, men, and, according to bloggers, grandmothers too.

This still left me with the question of: what does it all mean? Until just a few minutes ago I wasn’t sure, but then I got an email + photos from my dad showing the solar panels they just got installed on their roof (front and back). He’s been very keen on this initiative for several years and is excited that it’s finally happened. My dad is not a crunchy vegan earth father who spends his nights reading permaculture manuals. He’s retired military and Republican (economically, not socially, he’ll point out, and he’s very clear that he’s hell no not voting for Trump). But be careful of your stereotypes: he is also fuel efficient, adamant about buying eggs from the farm down the road because they leave their chickens to frolic in the fields, believes in climate change, and now solar panels. So maybe the bean sprout in the dream symbolizes the sprouting of green ideas? Or is that too easy an interpretation?

Climate Journeys

Just popping in to share a fascinating series of short pieces from the blog Artists and Climate Change:

Climate Journeys n° 1: Living Inside an Egg

I lived in character as the Beaulieu Beadle for twelve months from July 14th, 2013 until July 13th, 2014 in a six-metre long, floating Egg sculpture in the Beaulieu River on the fringe of the New Forest National Park in England. It was an innovative and energy efficient, self-sustaining capsule, providing a place to live as well as a laboratory for studying the life of a small tidal river in a protected Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Climate change is already creating new shorelines here, as established salt marsh is eroded by a combination of rising sea levels and falling landmass, and the entire littoral environment is in a state of flux. Sea level is predicted to rise by 114cm from today’s levels by 2115, with the loss of over 760 hectares of salt marsh.

 

Climate Journeys n°2: Sailing the Southeastern US and the Caribbean

I live in nature. Surrounded by it, I experience every subtle shift and change. I witness an amazing array of species as they inhabit the same place, and I am exactly where I want to be. I never could have predicted this would be my life. I never thought I’d give up my studio, my workshop, all my tools and supplies. I loved being a full time studio artist. But at some point, as an environmental artist, it wasn’t enough. As my ideas grew, the studio felt too confined, too removed, so isolated and incapable of adequately experiencing and expressing (incubating and containing) what I needed to say. Being more visual than verbal, that’s really what art is to me; another means of expressing a concept or idea.

Having sold the bulk of our possessions, my studio now fits in eight small drawers and paints live in a tiny bin. The sailboat is impossible to keep tidy and organized, and mold is a constant problem. But when I step out of the cabin into the cockpit, I see dolphins and egrets. I see pelicans and sea squirts.

Climate Journey n°3: Creating a Map of Coastal Climate Change Adaptation

Many island nations of the Caribbean and coastal regions of the Eastern U.S. are particularly threatened by damaging climate change impacts like sea level rise, increased storm surges, and loss of local aquatic ecosystems. Many adaptation measures could be taken to spare life and property in these threatened areas, but climate change skepticism and a poor understanding of the science remain a major barrier to meaningful action. In order to address this gap in understanding my partner, hydrologist Zion Klos, and I are embarking on a year-long sailing expedition, and art and science collaboration called Climate Odyssey.

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In other news, my research activities have been reduced to reading, sewing (a new discovery) and watering the garden in the midst of a nasty (for Switzerland) heat wave. The forecast is calling for 100° starting tomorrow and continuing at least through the weekend. All activities involving ovens, stoves and wool are therefore on hold at least until Monday-Tuesday, when I’ll be giving a bread baking workshop at a kids’ summer camp. Had I know we would be hit with this kind of weather, I would have proposed a popsicle workshop, but oh well, what’s done is done…!

What to do

Janis and I are organizing a group project on climate change (I could be more precise, but it’s not the point of this post) for the first-year master students at CCC, and we picked Mike Davis’s “Who Will Build the Ark” (New Left Review) as a first assigned text. An aside: when searching for the text online just now so I could link it — you need a subscription to the NLR to read it on their site — I came across the blog of an urban planner who posted it on his blog with the intro “New Left Review article that nobody has the time to read right now (even me). But I’m posting it anyway.” I don’t even know how to respond to that.

Anyway, I did read it, as did Janis, and we thought it would be a good text for everyone to read for discussion, not because it contains any astonishing facts about climate change (besides, it was published in 2010 so many of the statistics noted have changed) but rather because of the sentiments Davis expresses regarding being “realistic” and being “optimistic”:

[T]his essay is organized as a debate with myself, a mental tournament between analytic despair and utopian possibility that is personally, and probably objectively, irresolvable. …

In the first section, ‘Pessimism of the Intellect’, I adduce arguments for believing that we have already lost the first, epochal stage of the battle against global warming. …

The second part of the essay, ‘Optimism of the Imagination’, is my self-rebuttal. I appeal to the paradox that the single most important cause of global warming—the urbanization of humanity—is also potentially the principal solution to the problem of human survival in the later twenty-first century. Left to the dismal politics of the present, of course, cities of poverty will almost certainly become the coffins of hope; but all the more reason that we must start thinking like Noah. Since most of history’s giant trees have already been cut down, a new Ark will have to be constructed out of the materials that a desperate humanity finds at hand in insurgent communities, pirate technologies, bootlegged media, rebel science and forgotten utopias.

I really needed to read this essay when I did (last week). Davis isn’t optimistic per se, but our reason for choosing this essay to kick off the project can be summed up in its last sentence:

If this sounds like a sentimental call to the barricades, an echo from the classrooms, streets and studios of forty years ago, then so be it; because on the basis of the evidence before us, taking a ‘realist’ view of the human prospect, like seeing Medusa’s head, would simply turn us into stone.

Continue reading…    

Plastic wood paradise

On to one of my favorite subjects: robots. I read an article in The Atlantic the other day, “The Robots Are Coming, but Are They Really Taking Our Jobs?” and it made me think of something I read in the Faber Book of Utopias a while ago. File this under One Man’s Utopia is Kate’s Personal Hell:

Plastic-Wood Paradise (pp. 228-230)

In 1833 a German living in Pittsburg, John Adolphus Etzler, published A Paradise Within the Reach of All Men, Without Labor, By Powers of Nature and Machinery. Printed in the same volume were letters addressed to congress and to President Jackson, urging them to adopt his plan which would, he prophesied, transform the then wild and sparsely populated United States into a heaven-on-earth, attract millions of immigrants from Europe, and ensure America’s ‘unparalleled glory and dominion over the world.’

I promise to show the means for creating a paradise within ten years, where everything desirable for human life may be had for every man in superabundance, without labor, without pay; where the whole face of nature is changed into the most beautiful form of which it is capable; where man may live in the most magnificent palaces, in all imaginable refinement of luxury, in the most delightful gardens; where he may accomplish, without his labour, in one year, more than hitherto could be done in thousands of years; he may level mountains, sink valley, create lakes, drain lakes and swamps, intersect everywhere the land with beautiful canals, with roads for transporting heavy loads of many thousand tons and and travelling 1,000 miles in 24 hours; he may cover the ocean with floating islands moveable in any desired direction with immense power and celerity, in perfect security and in all comfort and luxury, bearing gardens, palaces, with thousands of families, provided with rivulets of sweet water; he may explore the interior of the globe, travel from pole to pole in a fortnight; he may provide himself with means, unheard of yet, for increasing his knowledge of the world, and so his intelligence; he may lead a life of continual happiness, of enjoyments unknown yet; he may free himself from almost all the evils that afflict mankind, except death, and even put death far beyond the common period of human life, and finally render it less afflicting; mankind may thus live in and enjoy a new world, far superior to our present, and raise themselves to a far higher scale of beings.

Continue reading…    

An article, a story, a video and some updates

An article:

Guerilla gardening, Freecycle and swap till you drop: how to live for free. An article from The Guardian, a couple months old. It’s absolute crap, written in a cheery voice that, as one commenter put it, “has the feel of someone who thinks they’ve slummed it at some point. Look at what the proles do to survive! How quaint.” I’m all for mainstreaming sustainable living practices, but not like this. I am posting it here solely to point you toward the comments, the majority of which are all sorts of hilarious.

A story:

A Descent into the Maelstrom,” by Edgar Allen Poe. Discovered thanks to Sandrine Teixido & Aurelien Gamboni.

A video:

Some updates:

Continue reading…    

On BF Skinner, revolution & societal blueprints

I made this:

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I’m going to go ahead and flatter myself: it was awesome. Maybe could have used a little more salt, but other than that I was very happy with it.

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I baked it Sunday night and by last night it was all gone. But I have a confession to make — I cheated and used yeast instead of leaven. It was dried natural yeast at least. I used it in the interest of saving time and sanity. Oh well, we can’t be purists all the time.

I’ve also been reading this, which is what I really want to talk about:

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Continue reading…    

Interview with Olivier: Part 1

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Last week I spent an afternoon hanging out with Olivier, a farmer who grows ancient varieties of wheat and other grains, some of them existing since the time of the Gauls, in a little village outside Romont, Switzerland. I took the train out, he picked me up at the station, and we rode out to his farm to discuss wheat, bread, seeds and agrobusiness. 

Olivier: So here we have a ton of pasta. I prepare packages of 400 grams. The pasta’s made by a friend of mine who does organic cultivation next door, and uses my flour for the pasta. I don’t have a mill at the farm, but he has a big machine that he bought for making pasta, and a mill, we can go see it, it’s part of the process.

(a huge racket made by pouring out the dried pasta into a big plastic bowl for measuring) And there you go, this is great. We have a finished product, and there’s no middleman, nobody between us and the consumer.

(speaking to the farm intern who sat with us at the kitchen table filling up bags of pasta while we talked) So you put the bag there on the scale, take the scoop and measure out 400 grams into each bag and staple it shut, okay?

Student: Okay, great!

Olivier (to me): Anyway so I was saying there, there are 200 varieties of ancient wheat. We grow various kinds, and with them we arrive at a mixture of these different varieties to have a genetic potential that’s diversified. Mixtures are going to be more balanced because there are different sorts of wheat, each of which is going to contribute something. So it’s a question of letting nature do its thing. I don’t select, I don’t go looking for the stalks of wheat that I like —

Me: So wait, you don’t keep specific seeds from the year before — ?

Olivier: Exactly, I keep everything, all of it, seeds from the planting across the board. I’m not looking to make a particular selection myself. Let nature do the work.

Me: Letting it evolve on its own.

Olivier: Exactly. Of course, back in the day people chose seeds from certain stalks of wheat to keep, and that gave us the now established varieties. So now, I let it go on its own. The natural conditions are imposed — by the soil, by the environment, which is going to create a space that reinforces the conditions for growing, and for us. We live in this space, so we eat what grows in the region, which corresponds to our conditions of life. It’s a logic, a natural logic. That’s why I don’t intervene.

(taking one of the bags of pasta the intern was filling) That’s a good bundle, 400 grams. Pass me the stapler please? Voilà, finished.

Me: And you sell this in shops?

Olivier: Not at all. Not interested in being controlled. The best way to kill agriculture is with the law, specifically laws on hygiene. European laws are dismantling everything how it once was. (holding up the bag) You see, no labels, but there’s no need, this’ll keep for a year.

Me: You started talking a bit before about the story of how you got into doing all this …

Olivier: Right. And like I said, you need to know the story of where you came from in order to know where you’re going. The roots.

Continue reading…    

Thinking about paper towels

This is My Brain on Paper Towels

I read the above essay this morning and decided to post it here because it’s a question that fairly regularly comes up in my life, the degree to which we make efforts to avoid wasteful or toxic products, and by extension how “green” (whatever that means) we are. I’m one who believes that individual actions and desires are a big part of the web of reasons why we’re on the road to who knows what climatically. (By the way, I’m reading World Made by Hand right now and it is not helping my general level of optimism that the world will avoid such a scenario.) That said, the fact that you (the plural you) don’t compost, or even recycle, is not going to in itself cause global climatic catastrophe, though yes, the amalgamation of our actions does carry a massive amount of weight, toward the continued production of throw-away consumer goods, the destruction of ecosystems in order to meet the public’s demand for a certain way of life, combined emissions from cars, etc. But the bad guy is not just us, or even the guy who tosses beer cans out his car window and into a sanctuary for piping plovers, and so I believe it to be counterproductive to make environmental consciousness into a pissing contest to see who’s doing the most to save Earth.

I know a girl who’s vegan (well, I know several, but I’m talking about one in particular). This in itself doesn’t bother me at all because it’s her personal choice, she can eat or not eat what she wants. I don’t eat meat (for a variety of reasons) but I do eat dairy and eggs; however, I fully understand why someone would not want to. The thing I don’t understand is the angry judgement that some people project onto others who do not make the same choices. This person is someone who will crinkle her nose and look away when someone next to her is eating a chicken stir-fry, and should you inquire as to what she’s eating for lunch, she says “TOFU” and honest to god you can see her muscles tensing up as though preparing for a fight. Calm down. I witnessed this exact scene, and then the following day also witnessed her unloading a sack of groceries to start cutting up an avocado and mango salad. I can say with the utmost certainty that the mangoes and avocados we get around here come from South America.

So who’s living in gray zones of good and bad? I can’t say, but what I can say is that I have never once witnessed someone respond positively to a personal attack on his or her lifestyle. Maybe you have — if so, please do tell because the person behind the attack might have discovered the magic approach to forcibly changing another’s subjectivity. But I really don’t think that it’s helpful to our world’s problems at large if we the people argue among ourselves about the details of our daily lives. It creates rifts where we should be creating links.

Alvaro’s and my roommate is decidedly less interested and concerned about the sorts of things we talk about all the time, and the roommate and I were talking the other day about friendships that cross political lines. He’s right-leaning, loves buying stuff, takes airplanes all the time, and maybe one in three times does his plastic, metal and paper actually make it into the recycling bin instead of the garbage pail. This makes for occasionally interesting (read: heated) dinner talk. But he said to me when we were discussing our differences that he appreciates that I’m not like him and also that I don’t lecture him for the things he does, and that we can be friends despite it all. I agree, it’s nice to be friends — though he said that he feels we need people all along the scale of politics and beliefs and actions, the real bad guys included, because it makes the world more diverse and interesting. That’s where I don’t agree — I would really love it if everyone in the world lived lightly on the planet, and I want the bad guys to disappear. But in no way do I believe that we’re going to get there by strong-arming people to change.

How then? I am not for erasing guilt, for being like him and saying that we need all sorts of people living all along the spectrum of personal action (environmentally speaking), and that I should not feel bad about getting on an airplane every so often because I do this that or the other so it all equals out.

Corporations depend on our rationalizations: it absolves them of doing anything wrong and it creates guilt-free consumers. That’s why they run all the ads that tell us, “What, you worry?” Falling back on wasteful or toxic products not only has its perverse pleasures, but it can seem “natural,” especially if those products are featured in ads with wild animals and awe-inspiring landscapes.

My personal guilt over some of my choices makes me think critically about what I’m doing, and not having any guilt over how I live could very quickly lead to not caring about anything, planet and people included. My guilt forces me look for alternatives and test my comfort level for new ways of living, and I want that.

The question that follows is to get beyond the “me,” those mantras of “first change yourself” and “small actions lead to big changes” and to figure out what comes next….

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In other news, Plantopic has invited an artist who yesterday evening did a workshop on mushroom cultivation. I’ve got loads of pictures and diagrams and explanations coming, but that’ll be for next time because right now I’m heading out to the countryside to see a guy about some wheat.

Open call for residency: Deadline change

I posted an open call for an art-research residency last week, but due to a scheduling issue we’ve extended the deadline for proposals to 14 February. FYI.

Nature, adversity, etc. – A call for proposals for a transdisciplinary residency at Utopiana (Geneva, Switzerland). 

The propositions may be comprised of artistic projects in different media, workshops, or other forms of interventions.
Utopiana is developing its activities around three axes: artist residencies, “Plantopic” – a research and gardening project – and a public event entitled “The Beast and Adversity,” the latter to be held in 2015.
In 2013 an urban garden, created by artists and neighbors of the residency, integrated itself into Utopiana’s universe. At present we are launching an open call for propositions for residencies in this context. The garden is a microcosm that allows us to question the old couple of nature and culture.
Contrary to the preconception of “the artist-genius,” which inspired romanticism with the conviction that “the contemplation of nature can bring us to understand the deep meaning of things,” Utopiana invites interested persons to take part in the residency to follow “the secret life of plants.” In addition to the workspace traditionally offered by the residency, a garden parcel of 5m2 will also be available as a space of experimentation in the community garden “Pote à Jean.” This call for those who believe themselves able to contribute to the subject at hand and who are ready to enter into a dialogue with the garden and its occupants.
This residency will be accompanied by the research group Plantopic, which bases itself around permaculture seen as an attitude and alternative form of social construction. In this same direction, Plantopic’s research is concerned with seeing art mediation as the creation of a milieu, an intermediary, but also an environment, a context, and “producing knowledge that contributes to writing our history differently….”
The residency is organized in view of an event that will take place in 2015, “The Beast and Adversity.” The notion of adversity refers to the fundamental ambiguity of our existence, which results in our desire to possess and master nature, when in fact nature possesses and masters us at least as much. In this way, in the heart of our being and in our environment there lives a force that makes us as much as it escapes us. The question that guides us in this project is thus: If nature is neither a reservoir of resources to exploit, nor an inert space to possess, nor an ensemble of mechanisms to master, how then might we come to terms with it? In this research we aim to question our relationship with nature constructed economically, culturally, and politically, and to explore alternative practice and thought in these subjects.
Interested candidates are asked to send by e-mail an application file consisting of a portfolio, CV, availability for a residency between March 2014 and March 2015 (maximum three months), as well as a motivation letter of 500 words or less. For more information, write to utopiana@utopiana.ch.
Deadline: 14 February 2014.

For more about Utopiana, please see our website www.utopiana.ch.

Midweek reading & viewing

I’m filled with rage after seeing the video at the end of this post. I’m going to go for a walk in the woods to cool off.