Each month a member of the art.earth Board of Directors selects a member to feature, to become our Artist of the Month. What follows is a response from that artist to some questions and a discussion, together with some examples of their work.
This month (February 2021) our featured artist is Flora Wiegmann, selected by Minou Polleros.
- What are you currently working on?
2 What would you say are the primary motivations for your work?
3 Are there any particular artists / others who have had a profound effect on you?
I’m going to address these questions all together because I’m finding that art and life aren’t following a very linear pattern at the moment.
In some ways, I feel like I’ve had to regenerate my practice during the seismic shifts of 2020. This was a year full of interruption, devastation and boiling emotion that required patience, adaptation, and action. Cascading crises propelled me through waves of being consumed by the news and participating in actions of protest, all the while celebrating moments of hope that change was on the horizon. These actions had a profound influence on my consideration of bodily experience in conjunction with environmental, economic and social justice. Understanding those issues as inseparable is key when we consider progress. In the words of Dr. John Francis in his book, Planet Walker, “…environment changed from just being about trees and birds and endangered species to being about how we treated each other. Because if we are the environment, then all we need to do is look around us and see how we treat ourselves and how we treat each other.”
The pandemic, of course, dramatically altered my trajectory. In an instant, all of my upcoming projects were postponed indefinitely. Instead of the familiar inertia associated with generating performance projects, I was left with a strange void. Instead of moving, I turned to observation and reflection. In this latent period, I’ve looked back on past projects, reconnected with collaborators, and dug into a pile of books I’ve been collecting. It’s all proven to be circuitously self-referential and brings into focus the interconnectedness of all things. I have enjoyed following threads that weave seemingly disparate ideas and people through the past, present and future.
I’ve collected what I thought to be a diverse collection of books, with publication dates spanning almost 200 years, but I keep coming across references that connect unique artists, explorers, naturalists, theorists, ecologists and scientists. I’ll share the example of William Beebe and his book Half Mile Down. He was the first person to dive in a metal orb past the reaches of light in the 1930’s and described never-before-seen deep sea creatures over a phone line to the surface. That descriptive language was then interpreted into intricate paintings by Else Bostelman. Extremely evocative, her images demonstrate that art facilitates the act of discovery, proof of which I am finding time and time again. When she was a child, Sylvia Earle, a marine biologist and aquanaut, read Beebe’s description of bioluminescence in the aforementioned book and it inspired her life path of exploring the deep ocean and setting records herself. Her book, Sea Change: a Message of the Oceans makes clear the fact that we must heal the ocean before it’s too late as all other systems depend on its health. Both authors felt reverence, excitement and wonder in underwater worlds.
These kinds of connections were the impetus for my essay that was included in the Evolving the Forest book. A compilation of quotes from various sites and sources like: deep ocean, a deathly hot crystal cave, forests, mountaintops and the surface of the moon; the text offers a sense of hope that experiencing a strong feeling of wonderment could move people to conserve our environment.
While writing this essay, I was able to reconnect with Penny Boston who worked in the grueling conditions of the Cave of Crystals near Naica, Mexico to gather life forms trapped in the largest crystals on earth (up to 11m long!). She is the director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute. Among her many accomplishments, she is also an explorer for National Geographic, and an expert on extremophiles. To describe her as multifaceted is an understatement. Her many interests drive her inquiry of the universe. This includes creative activity; writing poetry, in particular, helps her process some of the hard-to-fathom facts, especially when it comes to issues of scale. While geometry and mathematics are the actual tools used to measure things like time and space, it’s not the same, for instance, as directly experiencing a vast sweep of time. She also appreciates bodily/sensorial experience as an informative and intelligent instrument in our understanding of the world. Revealing many topics we’ve both been contemplating, our conversation demonstrated perfectly the web of interconnectedness that I’ve been experiencing.
I originally met her while attending a conference called Contact with artist and longtime collaborator, Nina Waisman. The conference was described as bringing together “social and space scientists, science fiction writers and artists to exchange ideas, stimulate new perspectives and encourage serious, creative speculation about humanity’s future … onworld and offworld.”
4 years ago, Nina and I founded The Laboratory for Embodied Intelligences, a kind of conceptual umbrella for artists, scientists and community members to learn from and dialogue with each other about their own particular research on physical behaviors, sociality, communication, and intelligence. artists, dancers and other researchers in intelligence called Intelligence Moves. This was the catalyst for our new collaboration.. After extensive research, we began to create embodied experiences based on scientific data that allowed humans to try on non-human perspectives in order to upend human-centric viewpoints and gain reverence, and therefore, empathy, for other species. To start, we zeroed in on the topic of microbes as they are the evolutionary start to all life forms here on earth. Our bodies are in direct symbioses with them. They are also likely the type of extraterrestrial life we may encounter in the future. Through simple movement exercises that considered physical makeup, modes of movement and methods for communication, we were able to garner new insight into the intelligence of these under-appreciated creatures as well as our own intricate human-to-microbe relationship which is vital to our survival. Penny joined for part of this process spending time with us in the studio, giving feedback and sharing some of her data on extremophiles both informally and in a talk following one of our performances. We are now working with Fulcrum Arts, who helped produce our project, to produce a video documenting our two most recent performances. It’s been really rewarding to revisit this work in order to look ahead to new projects.
I have since expanded my research to include plants, animals, fungi, etc. and the systems through which they interact. There was a plan in place to do a month-long project with Nature, Art and Habitat Residency ECO-Laboratory of Multidisciplinary Practice in the diverse area of the Telleggio Valley, Italy last June. Hopefully, it can go ahead this year. There I will work with local naturalists and farmers to learn about the complex biota there, immerse myself in it, and create a set of recorded “tours” for the public to take with them as they explore the landscape. These simple sets of instructions will aim to heighten participants’ physical experience, honing in on interspecies collaboration at work in situ.
Finally, perhaps my biggest work-in-progress was initiated in December. I made a radical shift from the sun and sprawl of Los Angeles to live on and conserve 50 acres of forest in the Pacific Northwest. Lopez Island, a rural island in the Salish Sea in the state of Washington, is also a Transition town like Totnes and I’m seeing the strength of the community support and action at work here. Right now, my partner and I are learning how to care for and improve the land that’s been largely ignored for 50 years; encouraging a more healthy habitat for wildlife and removing invasives. Eventually, we hope to start an artist residency that will invite writers, visual artists, musicians, dancers, and culinary artists to use the quietude and space to create work which then will be shared with the community in various types of events. Now that I am a steward of a forest, I’m wondering if my participation in the Evolving the Forest symposium had a bigger effect on me than I realized. Another circle has been drawn, connecting my first introduction to art.earth in 2019 to where I am today and as a member going forward.
Flora also has a piece in our publication Evolving the Forest, entitled Re-enchantment.