Mother’s Lament

Artist Michael Gresalfi‘s painting of past, present and possible future states of our coral ecosystems – the ‘rainforests of the seas’ – points to a grim outcome if we cannot rapidly implement international strategies. He finds inspiration in the “elegant tit-for-tat” coral-algae relationship of shelter, food and, photosynthesis: “the algae also paint their coral hosts with their famous colors — the riotous colors of a reef are actually a symbol of one of the world’s oldest alliances.”


This painting depicts the tragic deterioration and loss of our oceans’ coral reefs since the advent of the post-industrial ‘Anthropocene era’. I have presented this science-informed vision within a three-panel view of the past, present, and possible future viability of these so-called ‘rainforests of the seas’.

Michael Gresalfi is an artist who seeks to incorporate art with climate change data, and whose work in encaustic medium, glass paint, oils and acrylics includes ‘Our Changing Planet’.

 

Increased ocean temperatures and changing ocean chemistry are the greatest global threats to coral reef ecosystems. These threats are caused by warmer atmospheric temperatures and increasing levels of carbon dioxide in seawater. As atmospheric temperatures rise, so do seawater temperatures.

This painting depicts the tragic deterioration and loss of our oceans’ coral reefs since the advent of the post-industrial ‘Anthropocene era’. I have presented this science-informed vision within a three-panel view of the past, present, and possible future viability of these so-called ‘rainforests of the seas’.

Coral ‘bleaching’ occurs as a stress response to both increasing ocean temperatures and pollution. The mass extinction of these critical ecosystems is envisioned within the third panel. This grim future is unfortunately a realistic outcome unless humanity works together to quickly design and then rapidly implement internationally agreed-upon mitigation and adaptation strategies.

The coral-algae relationship is an elegant tit-for-tat. The algae find shelter in the coral’s exoskeleton, and use its waste to perform photosynthesis. In exchange, the algae gives the coral oxygen and energy-rich sugars, plus a built-in waste management system. The algae also paint their coral hosts with their famous colors — the riotous colors of a reef are actually a symbol of one of the world’s oldest alliances.

When a coral is stressed, it can take drastic measures and expel its photosynthetic roommates. This removes the need to share nutrients, but also takes away the coral’s main food source; according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), up to 90 percent of the sugars that algae produce are donated to the coral. If the algae don’t return within a few weeks, the coral will die.


Mother’s Lament is a 36′ x 30′ acrylic painting on framed canvas

You can find more of Michael’s work at his website. And in our archive, you can find his previous Creative Showcase pieces for ClimateCultures: “What Man Has Wrought”, a seven-panel installation using styrofoam with melted wax, acrylics and a heat gun to reflect a world we risk if we fail to make restoring our Earth our shared priority; and Our Changing Planet: a video presentation of his artworks with his own narration, offering educators and advocates one example of personally communicating the science of climate change through a creative medium.

Drawing on Water

Artist James Aldridge gives a short video tour of his recent Drawing on Water exhibition. This brought together artworks that emerged out of the Queer River arts-based research project he set up in 2020, using an audiovisual installation and his ‘Walking Pages’ to look at his individual, embodied relationship with a range of local wetlands.


“What I have come to realise is that being Queer is not about being defined by others as Other, but refusing to be colonised or domesticated. It is about being yourself in spite of the restrictions you may face, a self that you discover through relationship with others. In this way I see it as closely related to (Re)wilding, whereby if the right conditions are put in place, the land begins to heal itself, bringing health to it and to us.’’ – James Aldridge, A Queer Path to Wellbeing (ClimateCultures, July 2020).

James Aldridge is a visual artist working with people and places, whose individual and participatory practices generate practice-led research into the value of artful, embodied and place-based learning.

 

Queer River uses walking, talking and making with rivers and their human and non-human communities, to research what a Queer perspective on rivers and other wetlands can offer us in this time of climate and biodiversity crisis.

Rather than seeking to capture Queer River in its entirety, Drawing on Water looked more closely at my own individual, embodied relationship with a range of wetlands with a particular focus on the Salisbury and Bristol Avons.

Drawing on Water gathered together artwork I made on walks, at home, or in the studio. Drawings included those I made using inks from plant materials that I gathered along the Salisbury Avon (e.g. Alder cones, Dock seeds and Elder berries). Others explored bodily health and pollution, or began to look at neurodivergent experiences of place.

For the audiovisual installation, I collaged together imagery from chalk streams and chalk downland, with footage recorded both above and below the water’s surface, whilst Walking Pages hanging from the gallery walls recorded my sensory experience of each place.

Drawing on Water


Notes

The Drawing on Water exhibition was held at the Pound Arts Centre in Corsham, Wiltshire, in the summer of 2023. You can see the short film James made about the exhibition above, and discover more at his Queer River project site and his artist’s website – as well as in the posts he has written for the ClimateCultures blog: A Queer Path to Wellbeing and Queer River and Engagements with Ecologies of Place.

1.8

1.8 takes a critical view on the approximately 706 million gallons of waste oil that enter the ocean every year”. Katrin Spranger‘s piece powerfully uses performance with oil itself to bring home the global impact of pollution and waste on our oceans and wildlife, visually depicting how much crude oil we consume and release daily.


Juxtaposing beauty and ugliness, the physical properties of oil and the marks being left on canvas create a metaphor for humanity’s struggle and highlights the tragic awareness of our inability to control the effects of environmental destruction. Whilst some marks quite literally depict a ‘carbon’ footprint, most other marks witness traces of a fight with a slippery liquid material that could not be controlled.

Katrin Spranger is a visual artist working on the intersection of sculpture, jewellery, and performance, exploring dystopian narratives that engage with environmental issues including the depletion of natural resources.

 

Formed millions of years ago, yet only used for around 200 years, fossil fuel reserves are emptying very quickly. With current and expected future levels of usage, oil reserves are in decline and cannot meet our population’s needs in the long term.

Global consumption of crude oil, based on the 2021 world population breaks it down to 1.8 litres per capita per day with the forecast of an increase.

1.8 takes a critical view on the approximately 706 million gallons of waste oil that enter the ocean every year. With over half coming from land drainage and waste disposal; for example, from the improper disposal of used motor oil, the other remaining parts come from offshore drilling, production operations and spills or leaks from ships or tankers.

Oil spills present enormous harm to deep ocean and coastal fishing. Oil spills at sea can kill large numbers of seabirds and have the potential to wipe out entire populations where these are small or localised. Oil can stick to birds’ feathers, making them lose their water-proofing and potentially leading to hypothermia. When birds try to clean their feathers they ingest oil and are likely to become poisoned. Birds can be cleaned, but this is laborious and expensive. To rehabilitate a single bird takes up to 45 minutes.

Apart from the problems of offshore oil drilling, mining and oil spills, an additional tragedy is that, unfortunately, much of the world’s plastic has ended up in the ocean, where, dispersed by currents, it becomes virtually irretrievable, especially once it has fragmented into microplastics. Computer models suggest that seas hold as many as 51 trillion microplastic particles. Some are the product of larger pieces breaking apart; others, like microbeads added to toothpaste or face scrubs, were designed to be tiny.

To take the viewer on a rigorous journey to visually depict how much crude oil in the form of plastic products and carbon emissions we consume and release on a daily basis, the protagonist of the 1.8 performance wears a feathered jewellery piece with the exact amount of 1.8 litres of oil hidden under their wings. Their performance follows a trajectory, starting from a beautiful, immaculate state of being with slow, majestic movements, onto more struggling gestures and emotions of reluctance to accept loss, to an eventually uncontrollable mess, leading to the inevitable, horrific death. Juxtaposing beauty and ugliness, the physical properties of oil and the marks being left on canvas create a metaphor for humanity’s struggle and it highlights the tragic awareness of our inability to control the effects of environmental destruction. Whilst some marks quite literally depict a ‘carbon’ footprint, most other marks witness traces of a fight with a slippery liquid material that could not be controlled.

1.8 aims to assess and rethink our daily oil consumption in the form of trying to consume fewer plastic products and packaging materials, and ultimately reducing our environmental footprint at scale when traveling and commuting on a daily basis.

Art direction and jewellery: Katrin Spranger
Performance artist: O.K. Norris
Styling and costume: lambdog 1066
Videographer: Louis Thornton


You can explore more of Katrin’s work at her site — and look out for details of the 1.8 Recycle Workshop Series:

“Of all plastics used, worldwide just about 9 % is recycled. As a matter of fact, even when trying to cut down on packaging materials, consumers not always have a choice when shopping, as items usually come wrapped and packaged in non-recyclable materials. Whenever it is not possible to reduce consumption, we may consider re-using and transforming such materials to reduce waste.

“Following my 1.8 performance piece commenting on crude oil consumption, I am going to run a series of workshops in 2023 that inspire action and provide practical solutions to dealing with ‘waste’ products. Each participant will be asked to collect and bring 1.8 kg of plastic and crude oil waste products to the workshop where we’re going to assess and explore those materials. During the workshop we will recycle and transform the materials using various processes including heating, melting, pressing, cutting (for example heating plastic bottle caps) in order to co-create new artworks such as jewellery pieces or objects. The aim is to create work that does not resemble the materials that it was made of.”

There are a limited number of workshop places, so if you would like to take part, please email spranger.katrin@gmail.com to express your interest.

To explore some of the issues Katrin addresses in her work, see:

Standing Tall, 2022

“We decided that what we could do was to let the trees and the space know they were not alone … in community, communicate to them how deeply they are loved, and to be with them through their impending violation. Action in this sacred sense transcends human politics, bypasses it.”

With composite photography and video, Jennifer Leach — Director of Outrider Anthems, and supported by eco-scenographer Andrea Carr, Outrider Anthems Associate — documents and witnesses creative community resistance to the corporate felling of 112 trees and the sacrifice of a city’s green lung for more concrete.

‘They say that in time we will forget. We will become accustomed to the new environment. No. We learn to endure. We do not forget.’ An Outrider Anthems community intervention on Reading Golf Course, where 112 numbered trees, and countless smaller others, are to be felled to make way for a profit-motivated housing estate. We gently bound each doomed tree with a tie of white muslin, thus making visible what the developers and Reading Borough Council wish to keep invisible: a mutual community of powerful trees and all their interconnected ecosystems, earmarked for destruction. Our human community, having had our record number of planning protests ignored, stand in solidarity with the trees.

Jennifer LeachJennifer Leach is a poet, writer, performer and storyteller whose wild work, forged in the fantastical reaches of deep imagination, brings to life new stories for our strange times.

 

This intervention began with a community desperately trying to safeguard its health, three times resisting a merciless building on one of urban Reading’s few green lungs. It was once agricultural land, then a golf course — until the golfing members handed it over to developers for a princely and undisclosed sum. In almost every way it is an inappropriate development, and yet on the third time of presenting it to Reading Borough Council, and with barely an alteration to the previous two applications, it was suddenly supported and passed. The community had objected with a borough-wide record number of objections, and our distress at the Council meeting was in itself distressing.

The meeting, with its clearly preordained conclusion, was a brazen travesty of the democratic process. The required green links — crucial to the bare survival of species — was, the developer suggested, “hypothetical”. The development, with its 223 largely luxury housing, was going to “improve traffic in the area” and the developers, the Council openly stated “are the ones with the money and they can do what they want.”

“It’s called Capitalism.”

This space is local to me, and in the post-golfing period in which it has rewilded, it has become very special, both to myself and to many members of my community. It is so rich in nature, and in magnificence, particularly in the hundreds of specimen trees that grow in the space. 112 trees are to be felled for the building of the houses, and each tree is unique, each is glorious. They have been categorised by the Council as ‘B – of moderate quality’, ‘C – of low quality’, or ‘U – unsuitable for retention’.

The democratic process was stretched as far as it could be, and appeals were made to central government, but the housing development will go ahead.

Andrea Carr, Associate Director of Outrider Anthems, and I as Director asked ourselves what we could do at this point. Andrea brought her ecoscenographic thoughtfulness and experience to the question, and we decided that what we could do — and we felt it was exceptionally important — was to let the trees and the space know they were not alone. We knew we could and should, in community, communicate to them how deeply they are loved, and to be with them through their impending violation. Action in this sacred sense transcends human politics, bypasses it.

I had the privilege of photographing every one of the 112 trees, and each one of them shared something of their intimate selves with me; they became a gift to me. Andrea came down on the weekend of 1st May and we spent two days measuring out and cutting vast reams of plain white muslin. On 1st May — Beltane in the old Celtic calendar, and a day traditionally associated with the great celebration and honouring of nature — we met with many members of the community and, armed with white muslin and site maps, we spent the day binding each one of the 112 trees to be felled. We stood tall beside them and photographed ourselves standing tall, in solidarity with the trees.

We have conjoined the action of this day with excerpts from the Reading Borough Council planning meeting, to create a composite film entitled Standing Tall. It is currently being screened as a part of the Ecostage contribution to World Stage Design 2022 in Calgary. It hurts to watch it, and it moves. We hope it will be widely shared, and that it will contribute to a changing world in which the sacred spaces and elements of nature become honoured and respected as they once were, and in which the hubris of a capitalist economy finally crumbles under its own insatiable greed. We hope it will inspire others to bear public witness to the non-human victims of human violence, and to stand in love and solidarity with them.

Click on an image to see the full-size series of photographs Jennifer took of the 112 trees.

And you can view more of the intervention with Andrea and watch the videos Jennifer made here at the Outrider Anthems website.

Community: Still from film, Standing Tall


You can find more work at the Outrider Anthems website, and sign up to their mailing list to hear about and support their future projects. And you can explore Jennifer’s work as a writer and artist at her own website.

The Puma Years: A Memoir

“There are more than a million heartbeats … nothing is like mine.”

In her discovery of a remarkable rainforest community of people and animals, Laura Coleman explores the meaning of love and rescue against backdrops of deforestation, illegal animal trafficking and forest fires, and the work of a pioneering charity created by young Bolivian volunteers.


Whiffs of scent slam into me, choking me, before they fade, replaced by others, sweeter, thicker, heavier. It hurts to breathe. To think. The greens grow darker, the smells more sickly, rotten, the trail more overgrown, the sky nothing more than a memory. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place that has its own heartbeat. Millions of heartbeats. I picture people jostling for space on the London Underground that smells of sweat and humans. There are more than a million heartbeats there but they’re all like mine. Here, nothing is like mine.

Laura Coleman is a writer, activist and artist whose memoir shares her life-changing relationships with rescued wild animals. She is the founder and chair of trustees of ONCA, a Brighton-based arts charity that bridges social and environmental justice issues with creativity.

In my early twenties, I found myself living in London, my life a loop of commuting and corporate meetings. Tired of tight, tailored suits and lacking direction, I quit my job and set out for South America. Two months into my three-month trip to Bolivia, I was bloated, sunburnt, lonely, and ready to go home. But a flyer about an animal welfare charity – Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY) – encouraged me to stick it out, and soon I was en route to “el parque” in the Amazon basin.

I found an underfunded, understaffed, dilapidated camp, along with suicidal howler monkeys, megalomaniac semi-wild pigs, toothless jaguars, and many more animals who had been sold on the pet trade, abused and abandoned. I also met a timid and terrified puma named Wayra who I was tasked to learn how to “walk” outside of her enclosure. Within days, all I could think about was going home. But after several weeks of barely showering, being eaten alive by bugs, and doing work that pushed me to physical and emotional exhaustion I’d never known, I deliberately missed my flight back to England and spent the next two years learning how to trust Wayra, and the jungle – and myself.

The book is set against a backdrop of deforestation, illegal animal trafficking, and forest fires, and I really wanted to find a balance between exploring what happens when two desperate creatures in need of rescue find one another, alongside the universal context of working on the frontlines of environmental destruction. At its heart, the book is a love story, about kinship and community. In Bolivia, I discovered how the love that exists between humans and animals, and place, and home, can be just as important and powerful as any romantic love. This is what I wanted to share when I wrote the book.

I also, of course, wanted to support the work of CIWY. Over twenty-five years ago, a group of young Bolivian volunteers set up the NGO and created the first ever sanctuary for rescued wild animals in the country. Over the years Parque Machía has provided safe homes in the cloud forest to thousands of rescued animals, and to countless people. However, this year CIWY’s land lease contract with the local municipality is not being renewed and plans for the site are uncertain. The dedicated staff who live there have the painful job of relocating hundreds of animals to another of CIWY’s sanctuaries on the far side of the country, with no financial support from the government, costing over $400,000. Money from The Puma Years has gone towards starting construction in Jacj Cuisi, but it is going to be a long journey, needing global support in order to transfer all the animals at risk by the end of the year.

And this last year has seen devastation on so many fronts. Covid-19 has meant that, due to the cancellation of CIWY’s volunteer programme, a handful of exhausted staff have been doing the work of caring for over five hundred animals – something that would normally be done by hundreds of volunteers. And the fires in 2020 were the worst they’ve ever seen, so I don’t know what the future holds. There are countless small NGOs in the Global South struggling to hold on through devastating times. So any donation to CIWY or another Black, Indigenous, or POC-led project will support people working on the frontlines of environmental disaster and justice. What has been so overwhelming, since my book has been published, is the incredible amount of financial and emotional support that has come in from around the world and I want to thank everyone who has been in touch with either me or CIWY. Your support makes all the difference!


The Puma Years: A Memoir is published by Little A and you can buy it from Bookshop or Amazon or as an audiobook on Audible. And you can watch the online book launch on 3rd June 2021, hosted by Persephone Pearl at ONCA, with Laura reading from her book and discussing the work of CIWY in conversation with Tania ‘Nena’ Baltazar, founder and president of Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY).

You can find out more about the work of Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi and opportunities to donate or to sponsor an animal, and explore Laura’s website and the work of ONCA.

Living with Trees

“Imagine these islands with large forests, small woods and a countryside dotted with trees, covering about a third of the land.”

Robin Walter’s new book, Living with Trees, traces our long associations with woodland since the Ice Age, noting what we’ve lost, celebrating our remaining ancient woodland and trees, and calling for a wooded future.


“Imagine these islands with large forests, small woods and a countryside dotted with trees, covering about a third of the land. Some of these forests are hard-working and productive, other forests might emerge from the return of wild nature and native trees; others might be small community woods gently managed for wildlife and people; each wood will make our land that bit more resilient to a turbulent world. Are we just dreaming? Is this sort of joined-up thinking possible?”

Robin Walter is a  forester and writer of nonfiction and poetic work on trees and the changes needed in the British landscape to deal with climate and ecological emergencies.

The impulse to write Living with Trees came in 2010 when the government tried to sell off the Forestry Commission forests, only to be met with determined resistance from people keen to hang on to ‘their’ woods. This passionate display of interest in our woods prompted the environmental charity Common Ground to explore this new upsurge of concern. So they invited me to revise their 1989 book In A Nutshell and we set to work visiting woodland initiatives around the country. In particular we sought out community projects with social and environmental agendas, such as mental health, education and conservation. This seemed an important aspect of woodland ‘ownership’ which the government had neglected, at their peril. The charity changed hands and work resumed in 2017 amidst a rising interest in trees and our natural world, aided by David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2 series.

The book is ambitious in scope — tracing our long associations with woodland since the Ice Age, noting what we have lost, celebrating what jewels remain (in the form of ancient woodland and ancient trees), and imagining a future with more trees in our lives. We also consider a wide range of tree presence, from the trees in gardens and parks, to the trees in streets and towns, to the woodlands and plantations in the countryside. Throughout this exploration we find a strong bond between people and trees, passionate, caring and heart-felt. The book considers how we can use this affinity with trees as a portal to a closer relationship with the natural world, reclaiming our rightful place within it.


Living With Trees by Robin Walter is published by Little Toller Books and is also available from his website. Robin is giving illustrated talks on the book, online for now but in person later in the year.