I came across a really striking graphic today on The New York TImes, Are We in the Middle of a Sixth Mass Extinction? by Bill Marsh associated with the OpEd Protecting Many Species to Help Our Own. The credit for the image is a little ambiguous (is just the data from IUCN or is the entire graphic?). What do you think – is this a helpful way for you to visualize this information?
I hope all you readers have had a very good first week of 2012! In keeping with the New Year’s theme, resolutions to consider and hope for good things to come this year I thought Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax would be a fun topic to visit this New Year season.
I just found out that Universal Pictures is releasing a computer animated version of The Lorax in March 2012. It’s always tricky when someone makes your favorite book into a movie. On the one hand: you love this book, wouldn’t it be fantastic to see it on the big screen? On the other hand: what if filmmakers just don’t get it “right” (not to mention Hawley Pratt’s 1972 old-school animated version of The Lorax is already pretty good). With a story like The Lorax, one has to be skeptical of a hugely for-profit film industry setting out to re-tell one of the most poignant environmental tales of the 20th century, right? Well, we’ll see.
Even though Seuss’ book was published in 1971, overexploitation of our world’s natural resources is just as rampant today, if not more so. So, even though I dread what could go wrong in the re-telling of The Lorax, maybe exactly what we need in 2012 is a remake of this film for a new generation.
This book means a great deal to me, as I’m sure it does to many of you readers. In part, it inspired me to pursue a career in conservation. Or, at the very least it’s message galvanized me to do my part to help protect the environment from Once-ler’s of the world, to use my science as the tool with which I could translate the messages (typically interpreted through ecological patterns in population size, animal behavior or distributions) of creatures who cannot speak for themselves in our language. Fortunately, there is a slew of modern-day, real-life Loraxes (or maybe Loraxi?) out there, many of whom aim to bring awareness to deforestation and other natural resource exploitation through their art.
Deforestation Art: Speaking for the Trees
This clever advertisement for the World Wildlife Fund over on The Conservation Report blog quite literally makes the connection between our Earth’s life support systems and deforestation.
In a protest against deforestation in Iran, activists and artists created this very Once-lerian scene (covered here by Green Prophet):
The Iranian protest piece above is a great transition into the work of by UK artist Angela Palmer, who has quite literally tackled the theme of deforestation in her Ghost Forest Project. Her series of massive rainforest tree stumps from Ghana in West Africa have now been publicly installed in Trafalgar Square and Copenhagen and currently resides in Oxford. The installation is meant to bring awareness to the rapid rate of natural resource exploitation both in the tropics and worldwide. The website created around this project is impressive and provides information on the art, the artist, responsible forestry in Ghana and detailed descriptions of the seven tree species featured in the Ghost Forest Project.
Though the idea of “let’s display some tropical tree stumps” sounds simple, this incredible documentary short from The Ghost Forest Project describes the entire process that Angela Palmer went through to get these massive organisms to Trafalgar Square for their first exhibition. It’s incredibly inspiring and it sure packs a punch:
“The tree stumps were exhibited as a “ghost forest” in Trafalgar Square in London in November 2009, and then in Copenhagen in December during the UN’s Climate Change Conference. The Ghost Forest is now on the lawn of Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum and will be there until July 2012. The trees are intended as ‘ambassadors’ for rainforest trees throughout the world.” – The Ghost Forest Project
Linda Kunik is a painter, photographer and installation artist whose work deals with environmental issues and globalization. Through her 2006 Deforestation and the Land series, Linda hopes to bring attention to both the beauty and the fragility of Earth’s landscapes. You can see more of her work at www.lindakunik.com.
“Cicatriz is a painting I did about deforestation in the Altiplano of Bolivia. Cicatriz means scar in English. In this part of the Altilplano,they are deforesting in order to build these developments which grow radially, then a road is built and another development is planned and constructed. I found photographs of these developments on the internet and created this abstract/representational image.” -Linda Kunick
These rolled linen art pieces by New York artist Ian Trask quite clearly evoke images of deforestation and are created from discarded fabric scraps. You can see more of these amazing rolled fabric sculptures on Ian’s website www.forkartist.mosaicglobe.com.
“As a sculptor, [Ian] explores the inherent aesthetics of material waste. He argues that one of modern civilization’s greatest tragedies is the abundance of waste that results from an out-of-control, consumptive materialism in an industrially advanced global marketplace. By choosing trash as his medium [Ian] reduces the material demand he places on his own immediate environment while also suggesting to his viewers the importance of redefining how we look at our waste.”
Much of printmaker and painter Marian Osher’s art explores human relationships with each other and with nature. Marian also curates a great list of links to eco-art related organizations on her website and discusses eco-art on her blog marianosher.wordpress.com.
“My art also allows me to share my continuing exploration of universal connections between human spirituality, the non-human animal world and harmony with the environment. Since 2000 I have chosen to create monotypes, monoprints, and paintings using water-soluble environmentally friendly media.” – Marian Osher
Renewal + Hope for the Future
While it is certainly important for us to be aware of the problems of deforestation, I think it’s also very important to understand what we can do about it. One of my favorite messages from The Lorax is about hope for the future and the possibility for renewal. This is a very New Year’s kind of message, but it’s not just for fiction! In real life, rehabilitation and reforestation of ecosystems is a very large and important branch of the field of ecology and some amazing things have been done in this field! Some of my very early scientific research was focused on assessing reforestation efforts in Hawaiian rainforests that were cleared in the past for cattle ranching. Some of my dissertation research involved a lot of aquatic restoration activities to improve habitat for the endangered Barton Springs Salamander. For more examples, I encourage you to visit the Society for Ecological Restoration‘s Restoration Project Showcase, which displays some really amazing before and after photos of restoration sites. Here are a few artists whose restoration-themed work gives me hope for the New Years to come:
One of the earliest representations of reforestation in art I could find was Canadian artist Emily Carr’s 1936 oil painting entitled Reforestation which is currently housed at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Marian’s work not only brings awareness to deforestation and loss of habitat issues, but her 2007 print Regeneration speaks to the very Loraxian hope of recovering from deforestation with time and patience.
In his 2002 series Enchanted Trees Reforestation, Seattle artist James Sutherland portrays portraits of trees in these colorful painted carved plaster panels. You can see more of these on his website www.jameswsutherland.com. James told me a great story about how these works got their name:
“The title of my “Reforestation” exhibit came about in late 2002 after my first exhibit of 25 “Enchanted Trees” sold out on opening night. Since folks (patrons) were interested in having their newly purchased artwork, I got to work on 25 or so “replacement” pieces, in order to fulfill my agreement to keep a full exhibit hanging at the cafe. Since I needed to replace the Forest, I decided to call the exhibit of new work “Reforestation” ” – James Sutherland
I came across Rick Crane’s Reforestation print on his shop on society6.com. I absolutely love the graphic simplicity and repetition of the trees across the landscape, which reminds me a lot of Charley Harper’s Octoberama. To me, it portrays the great amount of healing healing that can be accomplished, even by a single person person, to help restore ecosystems one step at at time.
The Lorax + 40 Years of Education
2011 marked the 40-year anniversary of the publication of The Lorax, and several Lorax-related modernizations have hit the web in recent years. Seussville.com’s The Lorax Project, for example, is a collaboration between Conservation International, Dr. Seuss Enterprises and Random House Publishing to help raise awareness of forest ecology and conservation worldwide. You can also download The Lorax eBook and the Lorax Garden game for your i-devices. Though, given my call back in July for more educational and ecologically relevant i-things, the game certainly lacks the ecological message I was hoping for. Even the academics have joined in the fun of the 40th anniversary of the publication of The Lorax. In an August 2011 article in Nature, Emma Marris discusses the policy implications of the book 40 years after its publication.
So, my New Year’s message for you is my favorite quote from The Lorax, and maybe my very favorite quote from all of literature:
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing iss going to get better. It’s not.” – The Lorax
Happy New Year!
Well, it seems that I’m on a role with scientific illustrators on the ECO Art + Science series here on the biocreativity blog! Back in October, I got an enthusiastic email from a recent graduate of Bennington College in Vermont who studied both Natural Science and Visual Art. Her illustrations of natural objects blew me away and I immediately suggested we get started on a post for this series. Her work is so hot-off-the-press that we had to gather some images of her work first. “Some of my work is currently hanging in a show at Bennington College,” she informed me. So, now that we have digital images of the work of this budding illustrator to share here on the biocreativity blog, and her website is now up and running, I’m thrilled to feature the work of illustrator Stephanie van Ryzin.
Her work channels some of the great animal still-life artists with modern and elegant simplicity. I even see some of Georgio Morandi’s proto-minimalism and Georgia O’Keefe’s work with animal skeletons. In fact, Stephanie’s recent work would be right at home in an exhibition entitled Of Beauty and Death: Still Life From the Renaissance to the Modern (or, Von Schönheit und Tod: Tierstillleben von der Renaissance bis zur Moderne, in the exhibition’s native German) that opened this month at the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe, Germany. The exhibition traces the evolution of the still life from its origins in the 16th century through 20th century works and runs through February 19, 2012. Given that Stephanie just graduated from Bennington College, it’s safe to say that her’s is some of the most modern work in animal still life there is. Here’s a video describing the exhibit and featuring some of it’s paintings. If you don’t speak German I recommend looking at the paintings and reading today’s article about the exhibition from ArtDaily.org)
[biocreativity] Welcome to the biocreativity blog, Stephanie! I think I’ve taken up enough time with my impressions of your work. How would you describe your work, interests and profession?
[SvR] I recently graduated from Bennington College where I studied both Natural Science and Visual Art. My true love lies in the natural world, and is where my interests in both science and art originate. I am particularly interested in the relationship between the natural world and the built environment, and conflicts between people and wildlife. I intend on going back to graduate school in a few years for either wildlife or conservation biology. However, I am also interested in scientific illustration, and would hope to eventually use these skills in conjunction with my research.
[biocreativity] You should check out the scientific illustration program at California State University, Monterey Bay that I discussed in the last ECO Art + Science article with illustrator Emily M. Eng. I think you’d be a stellar candidate. Stephanie, where do you see yourself on the biocreativity spectrum? What is your primary training (art or science)?
[SvR] The arts and sciences are very much intertwined in my mind, but I think I do fall closer to the science end. In college my coursework always fell heavier on the sciences, as do my intentions for graduate school, but I find the more I am involved in the science the more inspiration I have with my art.
[biocreativity] How do you view the interaction of arts and sciences? What’s your take on how these disciplines interact?
[SvR] I believe the arts and sciences both sit on the common ground of observation, and can be powerful combinations when used together. For me, drawing is about seeing. It is about being able to observe something and accurately document it, and in this way serves as a tool for scientific inquiry. A lot of art and design I am interested in attempts to replicate images and ideas found within the natural world; I think both art and science share this similar curiosity.
“I believe the arts and sciences both sit on the common ground of observation, and can be powerful combinations when used together. -Stephanie van Ryzin”
[biocreativity] Can you please describe your art for the biocreativity readers?
[SvR] Within the visual arts I studied both drawing and architecture. The kind of drawings I tend towards are highly detailed observational drawings of natural objects that isolate a specific pattern or system within the object. In my work with architecture I have been particularly interested in connections between biological systems and architectural ones, and applying isolated systems from my drawings to larger architectural concepts.
[biocreativity] I think you’d love one of the current exhibits at the Tennessee Aquarium about turtle shells and architecture (a biocreativity post about that exhibit, Turtles: Nature’s Living Sculptures—Architecture in Bone, is coming soon)! What are your other inspirations?
[SvR] My inspiration has been an evolving process, and one that I think has benefited greatly from my experience at Bennington. I was challenged in my education at Bennington to synthesize my own connections between the natural sciences and visual art, which has manifested in my studies with architecture as well as scientific illustration. I have come across several influential people and projects that I have found confirmation and further inspiration in. Nature and the Idea of the Man Made World by Norman Crowe, and The Evolution of Designs, Biological Analogies in Architecture and the Applied Arts by Philip Steadman are two books I have found extremely relevant to my work. I have also been very interested in the work of Patricia Johanson, who uses similar applications of drawings to architectural design in creating ecosystems for both people and wildlife.
[biocreativity] What is the most important thing that you want others to know about your work?
[SvR] Observation, curiosity and patience are words that really resonate with me. Having your eyes open, being aware of changes and patterns and consistencies in the natural world, practicing patience and having the curiosity to keep looking I think are foundations for living, let alone good science and art.
“Observation, curiosity and patience are words that really resonate with me. -Stephanie van Ryzin”
[biocreativity] That may be the most beautiful statement yet to appear in this series, Stephanie. I completely agree. When you show your work to others, what is the most common question or comment you get about your work?
[SvR] A lot of times when I show someone a drawing the response I get is, “How much time did that take you”? I don’t think I spend an absurd amount of time on one particular drawing, but I can be a bit obsessive over detail.
[biocreativity] Stephanie, do you have a website where readers can see more of your work?
Yes, I just created a website: http://www.wix.com/sjvanryzin/naturalart#!
[biocreativity] What’s next for you in art + science? Where do you see your work going, or what would you like to do next?
[SvR] I am currently looking to become involved with either wildlife or conservation biology research, and get more hands-on field work experience before I commit to graduate school. I would ideally love to be able to use my art in conjunction, and something that I am wanting to work more on are drawings that speaks to issues in wildlife and environmental conservation.
[biocreativity] Well, I can’t wait to see what comes next, Stephanie. Best of luck to you in your graduate pursuits. I think your skills as an artist will really serve you well in graduate school, especially when it comes to communicating your work to others. Thanks so much for sharing your talents with us on the biocreativity blog!
Stay tuned for more ECO Art + Science interviews each Thursday right here at www.biocreativity.wordpress.com! If you or someone you know should be featured in this series, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lest you think this is a joke (as I did at first), you can visit the Center for Biological Diversity’s 7-Billion and Counting site and their newsletter Pop X. The world’s population is slated to hit the 7-billion mark this October. The Center for Biological Diversity‘s Endangered Species Condom initiative is their attempt at creatively (and, hey, practically) – dare I say – driving home the connection between overpopulation and environmental destruction.
“Overpopulation and overconsumption are the root causes of environmental destruction. They’re driving species extinct, destroying wildlife habitat, and undermining the basic needs of all life at an unprecedented rate.” -Center for Biological Diversity
The CBD is relying on volunteers to distribute the condoms at public events across the US. You can even sign up to help them reach their goal of distributing 100,000 free condoms in 2011, which is a bit shy of their 2010 quota of 350,000. Maybe this map will help you decide whether or not your geographic area is in need of more free Endangered Species Condoms. Just look at that distribution!
The images used on these clever condom wrappers were donated by the Endangered Species Print Project (ESPP). Since I study endangered species, this project hits pretty close to home. I love it! The ESPP creates art prints of critically endangered species in series that are limited by the number of animals (or plants) remaining in the wild. For example, there are less than 100 Panamanian Golden Frogs left in the wild, so ESPP founder Jenny Kendler’s print of the creature is limited to 100 prints. This project grew out of a fondness for nature and animals shared by ESPP founders Jenny Kendler and Molly Schafer:
” [they] met during their graduate studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where they bonded over nature-geekery, including a studious interest in animals, wild places and natural pre-history. Since 2005, Kendler and Schafer have been collaborating on projects relating to art and the environment.”
To learn more about ESPP, they have a great blog and a Facebook page that features many of the ESPP’s biocreative endeavors. All of the prints are available for about $50, and the proceeds go directly to organizations that benefit each endangered species. Now if only we can do a print for the critically endangered Barton Springs Salamander!? *Hint, hint Jenny & Molly!* I just happen to have a watercolor print and access to a rhyming dictionary!
I’m sure most of you are familiar with the Konami video game Frogger that first appeared in arcades in 1981. I’ve certainly burned my fair share of quarters on this game – despite my significant lack of video game skills – just for the fun of it. But, I’ve been wondering lately, could one of the most iconic arcade games of the 20th century also be a good teaching tool for ecology and environmental studies?
Could one of the most iconic arcade games of the 20th century also be a good teaching tool?
I definitely learned a lot of arithmetic back in the eighties from the computer game MathBlaster (which I’m excited to see is now available in its most recent incarnation for free at www.mathblaster.com) and a lot of geography in the nineties from Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. Have we biologists dropped the ball on creating educational games that are also fun and broadly appealing? I think some biocreativity may be in order here!
As-is, Frogger can help teach some of the basics of ecology. Mr. Frogger, of course, likes to eat insects, has a habitat preference of lily pads near stream banks (preferably far away from cars) and enjoys the company of lady frogs. Major causes of mortality are apparently vehicles, alligators and snakes. I forgive the game a few inaccuracies, such as frogs die when they land in water and turtles are as large as Volkswagens that travel in packs of three.
“In the United States, roadkill has surpassed hunting in its eﬀect on vertebrate mortality.” Alisa Coffin, 2007
These days, I think a re-vamped Frogger could be really useful in illustrating how big of a threat roads actually are to amphibian populations. To get serious for a minute, several recent reports – including a 2007 paper by research geographer Alisa Coffin in the Journal of Transport Geography – indicate that road-associated mortalities may be the number one cause of wildlife mortality in the United States.
Scientists around the world are now studying the myriad effects roads can have on amphibians in addition to turning them into pancakes. Chemical runoff from roads treated with de-icing chemicals has now been linked to mass mortaily of newts and was recently discovered to drastically reduce the size of egg masses in some frog species. In addition, Coffin reports in her 2007 paper that even simple traffic noise can affect animal behavior. Some birds, for example, (and perhaps some frogs, too) have to sing more loudly in the presence of traffic noise, thereby spending more energy on communication that could otherwise be used to find food or mates. Roads (divided highways in particular) act as significant barriers to dispersal and migration of animals, fragmenting habitat and genetically separating populations over time. Roads can also increase human access to rural areas, which can lead to increased hunting pressure and/or facilitate the spread of non-native species. “Cumulatively,” Coffin writes, “road-effects interact with each other when roads are considered as [eco]systems.”
“To educate better…We need to see the road through the eyes of the frog.” -Dr. Mark Widome, 1991
Roadkill has been the topic of several recent news articles and blogs by National Geographic, The New York Times and New Scientist. In fact, the problem of roadkill is so serious and understudied that The University of California at Davis recently formed the Road Ecology Center, dedicated to the emerging field of “road ecology”. Think roadkill is only a problem for wildlife? Think again. A 1991 article in the medical journal Pediatrics by Dr. Mark Windome used Frogger as an illustrative tool to describe the significant threat traffic crossings have on juvenile human survivorship (a problem that still abounds)!
Roadkill isn’t just on major highways, it even extends to protected areas. The photo below, for example, was taken along a relatively quiet park road between Buescher and Bastrop State Parks in Bastrop County, Texas. During a spring field trip in 2009, there were hundreds of roadkill frogs along Park Road 11 (this is “protected” habitat, folks!). Interestingly, the frog carcasses were all dominated by red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) and could be facilitating the spread of these ants by providing convenient food supplies.
So what’s being done about road mortality?
In a real-life examination of Frogger’s plight, Dr. Tom Langen and colleagues studied amphibian and reptile road mortality in upstate New York (reported in a 2009 article in the Journal of Wildlife Management). By simply recording when and where amphibian roadkill occurred, these scientists were able to identify “hotspots” of amphibian road mortality. These hotspots, mostly located where wetlands came within 100 meters of the road, can be used to determine where to place wildlife barriers, underground crossing tunnels and signs warning drivers to slow down and watch out. Knowledge of hotspots can even be used to predict and avoid where roadkill may be greatest when planning new roads.
All too often, however, the burden of “doing something” about roadkill falls to local citizens and organizations. For example, many citizen groups around the country have started amphibian crossing projects in their communities, to assist Frogger in crossing safely. Other groups also collect roadkill data through educational programs such as The Roadkill Project started by a professor from Simmons College in Boston to teach his students about wildlife and road mortality. Many state and regional programs throughout the country are now following the lead of the California Roadkill Observation System, by creating online networks for citizens and scientists alike to photograph, identify and map wildlife roadkill.
A handful of artists have made roadkill awareness their platform of choice including Pennsylvania photographer Joy Hunsberger, whose work focuses on portraits of roadkill animals, and University of Central Arkansas art instructor Carey Voss who constructs papier-mâché models of roadkill animals filled with wildflower seeds that she installs on country roads. Some artists are taking things even farther, including British artist Adam Morrigan who literally creates art out of roadkill near his home using indigenous methods of taxidermy. There are also some clever biocreative projects coming from groups such as the W.A.T.E.R. Institute at the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center in Sonoma County, California which produced the faux-news video below to raise awareness of the effects of roads on migrating California tiger salamanders. One of my favorite instances of Frogger-related biocreativity is from a couple of technology hackers who created a remote control Frogger with a Roomba vaccum cleaner and drove it across 6th Street during the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas back in 2006. I’m fairly certain it wasn’t in the name of roadkill awareness.
Interested in throwing your biocreative hat in the ring? Save The Frogs, a non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to amphibian conservation, hosts annual art and poetry contests to raise awareness of Frogger’s plight. The submission deadline is October 15, 2011. An entire page of the Save the Frogs website is dedicated to increasing awareness of the effects of roads on amphibians.
Getting back to Frogger, can popular video games be one way to increase science literacy? In this high-tech era it is becoming increasingly easy to design games and apps that could be used for this purpose. Perhaps there is a biocreative programmer out there who could design a new generation of Frogger that would educate players about road ecology, with a broader emphasis on many species and the diverse impacts of roads on wildlife. What if such a game could be come as educational as it was popular? While we’re waiting for that to happen, you can play Frogger online. And, if you want to be impressed by wicked Frogger-playing skills (i.e. not mine), you might enjoy this video.
What biocreative games have you discovered that may help increase scientific literacy?