Happy November (!) to you all. Today's newsletter is different. With COP26 underway and climate urgency in our newsfeeds, I thought it would be a good time to share some of the things I learned during GREENHOUSE, a two-day artist intensive program I attended at the end of September. It brought together a cohort of 100 local artists with a diversity of artistic disciplines and climate experiences. The program promised to nurture the growth of ideas and understanding:
I didn't know what to expect, but as an artist struggling with eco-anxiety, I knew I wanted to be a part of it! I was thrilled when I was accepted into the cohort. Full disclosure-- no original art was created during this, only seeds of ideas in our minds. Both days were packed with juicy lectures and inspiring conversations in a beautiful setting on the unceded ancestral territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) peoples at the UBC Botanical Gardens.
Today I will share my take-aways from DAY 1. Read on if this sounds interesting to you.
CLIMATE GRIEF with COREY MATTHEWS (HARDEMAN)
She stood at the sundial in the center of the UBC Physic Garden while 25 of us encircled her among fragrant, medicinal (and some poisonous!) plants. Corey Matthews, a certified Death Doula and painter, with eyes always pink and glistening, started her session with the recital of a poem:
Our place in the family of things.
In the words of Corey, "The sorrows of the world are too big to carry alone."
"An astonishing array of things are dying." These losses connect us. What we feel when we grieve over climate change is the cost of love. Every time we love, we sign up for grief, and in grief we become profoundly loving people. What happens when we lose the ability to love and grieve? Fear takes up space. And that is what we are seeing in the inaction around us over climate change. We are frozen by fear.
But, Corey taught us that as Artists, we are good at paying attention. "The act of making art is an act of deep care, deep love, deep attention". When you give those things, the outcome becomes irrelevant. Art becomes "an act of service"... of profound generosity. Our job as artists is to "expand this circle of generosity". To care about more people. To learn the names of trees and endangered species. Our grief is honest and telling us to connect with people and to turn inward. As Corey says in her speech outline, "Grief is not a problem to be solved, but a deep encounter with ourselves, our humanity, our community... Grief has a job to do and that job is to build relationships and integrity." And she invites all artists to integrate this grief into our practice.
Corey brought up the example of Heather Spears, a Canadian writer and artist. Heather spent a lot of time in neonatal, maternity, and pediatric wards of hospitals in America and Europe, sketching premature babies and children with illnesses and disabilities. I flipped through the pages of Drawings from the New Born - Poems and Drawings of Infants in Crisis by Heather Spears at the end of the session. Every page pulled at my heart strings. Tender lines expressed the vulnerability of these children. It is difficult not to feel protective. A quote from Heather's website: "Often a photo is too harsh, with many unnecessary elements. A drawing while just as precise is softer and concentrates on the individuality of the child."
Corey ended her presentation with a reading of the poem The Facts of Life by Padraig Ó Tuama. Read it here.
ARTIST AT WORK IN THE CLIMATE MOVEMENT with KENDRA FANCONI
Kendra Fanconi is the Artistic Director of The Only Animal, the company that organized this program and is responsible for making "lovestories that connect people to the natural world" through theatre. We conversed with her at the Carolinian Forest Garden, under witness of the hardwood trees. I mentioned earlier that we are frozen. Reading the IPCC report (or even snippets of it) triggers an overwhelming Freeze response in most of us. We experience anxiety and blockage when we are faced with facts... with information we cannot process, we become immobilized. So, how do we melt the freeze?
Kendra pronounced that the fact-based approach is dead. "We are in the era of Too Much Information". Scientists don't have the power to vivify the world. Art, on the other hand, gives us access to our emotions and melts the frozen shell of anxiety/grief. Art can prove that our world is worth saving.
Here are some examples of amazing climate-engaged art that do exactly what Kendra is talking about (click on the links for more info):
Ice Watch by Olifur Eliasson and Minik Rosing Twelve large blocks of ice cast off from the Greenland ice sheet are harvested from a fjord outside Nuuk and presented in a clock formation in a prominent public place. The work raises awareness of climate change by providing a direct and tangible experience of the reality of melting arctic ice.
Ghost Forest by Maya Lin A set of 49 cut Atlantic white cedar trees that will slowly turn grayer over the course of six months in Manhattan's Madison Square Park.
A Thousand Year Theatre by The Only Animal A botanical ‘theatre set’ planted from British Columbia’s native forest species. It is designed to be used for an outdoor theatre show in 1000 years’ time.
Big Weather Climate art by Indigenous artists.
My Friends are Missing by Keerthana Ramesh A hand-made pop-up book of endangered species.
Drawings that Show the Beauty and Fragility of Earth by Zaria Forman Large-scale compositions of melting glaciers, floating icebergs, and foamy waves "explore moments of transition, turbulence and tranquility."
This was a condensed version of my first day at Greenhouse. (There were two other workshops that day that I did not even write about!) Reflecting on this experience was beneficial to me and I wanted to share some of that with you. I'm planning to do a Part 2 with more take aways from the second day of Greenhouse if anyone is interested. I hope that if you are an artist, this write-up inspired you to make more climate-engaged art, like it did for me. If you don't consider yourself an artist, I hope that this motivates you to seek out and share the wonderful work of artists vivifying a world worth saving.
If you are new to my work, then let me tell you a little more about myself.
I'm Shreyasi (pronounced sreyoshi). I am a Weaver, Embroiderer, Animator, CG Artist, Mixed Media Meditator, and Amateur Writer of South Asian descent. I am the nascent sole proprietor of Ezdee Art Studio, working slowly from my humble home (occupying the ancestral and unceded homelands of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh speaking peoples, aka - Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.)
I believe in the power of therapy and transformation through art. I also sometimes sell what I make and donate a % of the profits to a local environmental education organization - The ChariTree Foundation. Most of my tactile work is made with reused (second-hand), recycled, repurposed, or gifted materials with low-waste practices. If you would like to get in touch, visit my contact page. Thank you so much for being here and reading my words. Until next time.