Monday, September 11, 2017

Art That Raises Awareness of Forest Ecology Issues

LaynaJoy Rivas and Eva Reiska’s “Sysimetsä”, a memorial
for those affected by the fires that destroyed Lake County, as
well as for a beloved art space by the name of
Ravens Landing back in 2015.
1. Trees (and/or forests) are iconic symbols in virtually every culture;
2. Western US forests are in crisis.

Combining or juxtaposing previously unrelated ideas is how humans create new knowledge, whether with art or science. So, how are artists combining these two ideas at Burning Man, one of the country's most controversial art events?

"Ursa Mator," by Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson: a gorgeous
sculpture covered in shimmering, edge-wise pennies takes 
on additional meaning as the Man burns in the background. 
Large wildfire destroys forest ecosystems, including 
iconic wildlife.
Black Rock City--the temporary Nevada city of 70,000 people (including an airport with 800 flights per day!)--displayed numerous tree &/or forest issue themed artworks in 2017.

The most significant of these conceptual artworks was undoubtedly The Temple. Each year, a Temple is constructed as a locus of communal and personal release. People post photos, stories, keepsakes, mementos and messages relating to loved ones they have lost, or issues they are struggling with. The entire Temple is then burned to the ground on the last evening of the weeklong event in a solemn, silent ritual of cleansing and renewal that counters the rowdy, Saturnalian burning of the Man structure on the previous evening.

This year, the Temple architects chose to highlight western forest health problems by using lumber milled from dead salvage logs. This forest health theme is aligned nicely with the purpose and function of both the Temple, and the entire Burning Man ethos, which aims to alter attitudes of citizens in order to address systemic dysfunction in western culture.

More info about the Temple philosophy this year.


* * *

Burning Man is not the only group of artists working on forest issues, of course. Some artists are actively trying to change social policy.

Saving The West (STW) is a UC Santa Cruz-based, artist-led group working to create a new kind of timber industry that can use the small, torchy material that needs to come off of dry western forests in order to restore ecological function and resiliency. Without industry, there is no way to pay for the work that everyone, including loggers and environmentalists, now knows needs to be done. Meanwhile, our precious forests will continue to die off and/or burn. The current timber industry has retracted so far, and is still so focused on large trees--and lucrative salvage logging of the standing dead--that it is not useful at all in addressing this problem. Unfortunately, it's good business to let the forests continue to die.

STW recently received a grant from the US Forest Service to start a bi-state Wood Utilization Team working in California and Nevada in the Central Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Saving the West: A Whole Systems Proposal in Brief from Helen and Newton Harrison on Vimeo.


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