Tuesday, February 22, 2011

bat crash

Last December, an article appeared in National Geographic about the white-nose fungus that is causing massive, frightening die-offs in bat colonies around North America. The fungus has been on the radar of bat enthusiasts for a few years now - everyone in Chautauqua was watching for it in 2008 - so it's not breaking news. (In fact, the PA Game Comission's map on this website indicates that it had already reached Buffalo by the end of 2010, so Chautauqua can't be far behind.)

This article comes at a scary time for people paying attention to animals around the world, especially in the wake of the catastrophic oil disaster in the Gulf. It's even easier to sensationalize every ecological hiccup in the wake of a string of ill-timed (and highly publicized) animal die-offs in the winter of 2010-2011. Yet, it's pretty clear that the fungus is not normal, and it's spreading fast. At this point it's more a question of when the fungus will reach every bat in America, not if. And with many species already critically endangered, and all bats responsible for a lot of pollinating and insect control, the impact could truly be devastating on not just our food supply, but ecological systems across the continent.

I did some poking around to see how much more we'd figured out since the article was published. I'll admit I didn't go digging in library archives - just the internet - but it seems to me that not too much has changed. We're still waiting on evidence, I guess. I read a botanist's website that pointed out that we still don't have absolute scientific proof that the fungus is the actual cause of death. At best, at this point it's assumed to be an indirect cause. Scientists are still not absolutely sure - "scientific proof" speaking - that the fungus is what's disrupting hibernation and causing the snowballing of fat loss, metabolism disruption, and wing damage that is probably leading to mid-winter deaths. Right now, it's a probable guess.

I got to thinking about what it means to have scientific certainty about anything. The amount of irrefutable evidence required, the countless hours spent by lab workers, PhD candidates, scholars, etc. in search of the truth. The enormous amount of effort building skyscrapers of scientific knowledge, brick by brick, that can be dismantled by a public that is ill-informed, uninterested, or driven by fear.

Science, as illuminating as it is, is sometimes like a laser pointer seeking out a fish in the ocean. As much as we're able to discover with our advanced methods of seeing, sensing, and analyzing the word, a big part of me worries that the research won't ever keep up with the rate at which we're changing the planet. I wonder if we will find the truth quickly enough.

Monday, February 21, 2011

new bird collage-box

I haven't been posting enough images lately, so here are some shots of a new piece I'm working on:

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Collective wisdom from my old sketchbooks

One of the hard things, when you're painting, is, "what?"
     Gary Hume, artist

You don't owe anything to the work you've done previously.
     Chris Sperandio, artist

Nature is a mirror onto which we project our own ideas and values, but it is also a material reality that sets limits . . . the nonhuman world is real and autonomous . . . but the paradox of our human lives is that we can never know that world at first hand.
     William Cronon, environmental historian

Don't wait to do your "good" ideas. Act on every idea; you'll inevitably make bad art. Don't strive to get it right on the first try. Strive to make art each time you have an idea. Don't strike ideas down, because you achieve by doing, not thinking.
     paraphrased from Deborah Aschheim, artist

Plato suggests . . . that memory is like an aviary inside your head, with all these birds flying around, such that you might reach in for a ringdove and accidentally pull out a turtle dove instead.
     David Wilson, director of the Museum of Jurassic Technology, as quoted by author Lawrence Weschler

The ivory tower of science is in a ruin. Science is not a pure realm of truth beyond the taints of ideology and business, but a field of ideas enmeshed in a power struggle. Increasingly industry and economics dictate the direction and priorities of research. Whilst informed by science, we are ever vigilant against claims of scientific neutrality, and ever skeptical of the "official story" of natural history presented by scientific institutions.
     Mark Dion, extracted from a manifesto for artists working with or about the living world

We are the species in control, and it is up to us.
     Donald Johanson, anthropologist and discoverer of Austalopithecus afarensis fossil "Lucy"

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

so, an update

It's one month later. How has my "make art every day" mantra been going?

Well, I'm reminded of the five-year plan I was encouraged to make as an undergrad in my senior thesis class. On Saturday I'll be participating in a school-to-professional forum at Carnegie Mellon University this weekend, so I dug up my senior packet and five-year plan to take a look at what I thought I had in store for myself back in 2005:

spring 2006: graduate from CMU
summer 2006: work part-time and find a job in one of the following cities: Austin, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago
fall 2006: relocate to new city and begin working part or full time at a nonprofit institution
end of 2006: apply to grad school for the fall of 2007
2007: start grad school

Had I followed this, I'd probably have an MFA by now, and I'd almost certainly be living somewhere else. For those of you following along at home, I've managed to stay in Pittsburgh, work 3 years in retail, get married, buy a house, and ... not go to grad school. On the other hand, I've had over ten shows in the last few years, made enormous strides in my art, had an awesome residency and later job in Chautauqua, and, well, hey, I'm married and I own a house. And finally, after a few years of retail and unemployment I did score a job at an awesome nonprofit. Not so bad.

While I was poking around on my hard drive I also uncovered a lot of old cover letters for job opportunities long past (unsurprisingly, a few were for the Mattress Factory). The letters and my plans were a window into my 21-year-old self, who, at the time, was ready to hit the diving board running and plunge headfirst into a mix of prestigious jobs and higher education.

Let it suffice to say that life rarely unfolds the way in which you intend. I snagged the first steady job I could find out of college and intended for it to be a temporary stop on my way to career greatness. I found myself in the same place two years later treading water in a job I wasn't super thrilled about, plagued by doubt about my situation, my education, even why I was making art and how to deal with it existing solely in the echo chamber of my own judgment. But, after a residency, a year of unemployment, then returning to my old job, and finally moving on to the Mattress Factory, I do feel like I've gone somewhere.

Let it also suffice to say that as a young person ready to flee the college scene I really underestimated Pittsburgh. I confess I thought the city had nothing to offer beyond a few larger museums, but I've found a lot of small galleries, local talent, and a supportive and genuine atmosphere that has been a good place to develop as an artist. I do think we are a city poised on the brink of a greater role in arts, technology, and re-invention than we've had before.

Okay, so, what I am really taking up all this space to say is, it's hard to predict in what direction life will take you. Best laid plans of mice and men yadda yadda. Lesson learned, although sometimes I get pretty down when I think about how much I should have accomplished five years out of school.

Long story short, I broke my promise to myself in early January and, feeling creatively uninspired by nature fast asleep in the dead of winter, haven't made much of anything. Tonight I'm about to sit down and try my hardest to re-start.