The Shape of the Environment

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THE SHAPE OF THE ENVIRONMENT AUGUST 23RD NOVEMBER 4TH 2022 111 S. Livingston Street Suite 100, Madison, Wisconsin, 53703

Exhibiting Artists:

Curated by Lelia Byron.

Fábio Erdos, Patrizia Ferreira, Hong Huo, Hattie Lee, Lianne Milton, Richie Morales, Beth Racette, Nirmal Raja, Sparker, Roberto Torres Mata, Maria Amalia Wood, Derick Wycherly, and Rina Yoon.

ON VIEW AT: THE ART LIT LAB


C U R AT O R ’ S N O T E BY LELIA BYRON

I started working on this exhibition with the idea to create a platform that brings together artists to make and share work related to environmental topics. Working with a wide range of materials, from construction cones to burned tree remnants to bubbles mixed with ink, the artists in the exhibition have made work that delves into a wide variety of topics including the stories of trees, migration, systems of the earth, a deep dive in Antarctica, and an epic poem. Through their work, the artists talk about the impact of humans on the environment and of the impact environmental issues have at the individual, local, and global scales. What role can artists play in an ecosystem? I believe artists can be creative problem solvers and innovators. One goal is for the exhibition to serve as a bridge that uses art to connect people, inviting everyone to create new shapes for the environment in the present and future. Thank you to the artists in the exhibition for all of their hard work and dedication. Thank you also to Dane Arts and the Madison Arts Commission for supporting this project.

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S T O R I E S F O R O R P H A N E D S PA C E BY MRILL INGRAM A few years ago I attended a workshop in Fargo, North Dakota, designed to build connections between a new outdoor public space and people living nearby. Organizers invited participants to share their thoughts about nature and the environment. Those joining our group included long time residents and also people from far away, refugees thrown violently out of their homeplaces by war. A gentleman from Iraq spoke of a Yazidi ceremony held the entire month of April to celebrate peace and Earth’s renewal. He described colored eggs symbolizing creation and wreaths of red wildflowers, elements of a tradition with a tremendous history, but rooted in a place from which he is exiled. To walk a foreign land struggling to hold on to stories that few know of, and that are in danger of being forgotten—I glimpsed the loss experienced by being a refugee. A woman from Fargo expressed sadness for how she sees her society “trashing” nature, and that we need to think of the land around us as our home. We heard other stories, too, many of them complicated. No easy themes emerged to connect us. It felt like an impossible task to honor all that was shared about people’s environmental experiences, let alone to meaningfully tether these stories in this outdoor space. The word “environment” evokes so much that is paradoxical: the familiar vs. the new, subsistence vs. sublime, home vs. migration, human vs. other, cyclical seasons vs. unprecedented

change. So widely applied, the word is rendered almost useless. Just how to take on the shape of the environment? I have been thinking about how so many of us describe our relationships to Earth (aka the environment). Often we impart a morality tale: an ordered, balanced past to provide compass in the churn of the present. Humans are often victim or villain in these rather simple stories, characterizations that keep many of us an arms length from the hands-on, intimate negotiating that is key to building relationships with Earth. I think about how we circumscribe our connections to land; for example, setting aside small portions as special and ignoring most of what surrounds us. I observe how we routinely “orphan” space, mentally and physically disappearing huge amounts of history and land as we divide, confine, regulate, and commodify. The territories of infrastructure that sustain us, for example, become invisible in how effortlessly so many of us can pass them by. Routines that bring us into closer contact, mowing lawns for example, only perpetuate a simplified and neutered environment and accompanying narrative. But such thin environmental narratives are always inadequate. The generative, unpredictable world around us refuses to be consistent, even in how it confronts us. How can we tell new stories that resist the shape of paradox?

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(Continued from previous page) I like to imagine practices in orphaned spaces that might serve as reminders of the diversity of our neighbors (human and other), of the necessity and beneficence of fluctuations and change, of our responsibilities to steward our sources of sustenance, and of the power (and the limits) of our control. The challenge, in other words, is, “how to better read and voice the shapes of the environment?” We need the full round of art to take this on. In this exhibit, we hear voices powerfully articulate how one can only truly know resilience through a brush with extinction; how fantasy, abstraction, and nonsense are appropriate tools in a world turning topsy turvy in ways impossible to anticipate. We see works that challenge nostalgic views of a virginal past by showcasing exchange, connections, and materiality; honoring voices in pursuit of justice; embracing science as it reveals dependency and illuminates responsibility. The environment, we see, is a conversation; the work of building relationships to tell new stories. It is moving through the world sensitive to the power of what is not you, of the need to pay attention, to proceed with caution; a circumscribing of futuristic bravado with an embrace of humility and always gratitude. The future is recognition that re-use is homage to family; that there is no such thing as “waste.”

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History refuses to sit prettily in the past, rising to shake the world with confrontations fueled by past sins, pillaging, and theft. Art is engagement. It embraces the complexity with so many ways in, so many ways to tell stories. It is all here, taking shape. Mrill Ingram is author of Loving Orphaned Space, the art and science of belonging to Earth.


RICHIE MORALES A GENEALOGY OF VIOLENCE

*Text written by Claudia Vaca and Geryscopio in dialogue with Richie Morales.

What beings are we gestating from the During their production as well as when firing a weapon, including hunting firepractice of anthropophagy? arms, materials such as lead, copper, A wrathful gaze, a raised voice, fingers zinc, antimony, and even mercury are pulling the trigger twice, three times a released, all capable of infiltrating into week, as many times as needed to save soil and water. Ammunition comes covered in one-time use plastic that usually us from the “enemy”. ends up in the ocean. We have prefigured and configured a perfect system to gestate violence with Our mountains are constantly violated such cynicism that no legality questions by the voracious exploitation that feeds it, with our anthropophagic conduct we the brutal production of the weapons have become the soldiers that can’t be that kill us. Rivers, seas and lakes are welded, the debts that can’t be payed poisoned everyday by the maddening off, living in an era in red, an era de- greed of the thirst for war. signed to emit vibrations at a planetary scale in the pulses of every dead, na- The armies of the world produce between 5% and 6% of the global CO2 scent and killer subject. emissions, even during their periods out We are accomplices and witnesses of of combat. the war machinery that fragments families and mutilates childhoods in the di- Death settles on the violated bodies and verse corners of this planet where the territories much after the attacks have raw materials to produce armament are ceased, transforming their human, aniobtained. Weapons that carry at their mal, land and sociocultural victims forcore the genealogy of violence as con- ever. tained in the gazes, sweat, the accelerated breathing on the ripped and foul In a world where triggered firearms, a nuclear bomb, a bilateral agreement, a bodies. decision cutting through the neuronal channels to position death as the focus of action, sense of existence and realThe armament industry how much do we really value is the most destructive human ization, life?

activity for Nature.

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A Genealogy of Violence / Genealogía de la Violencia Richie Morales

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RICHIE MORALES Genealogía de la Violencia

*Texto escrito por Claudia Vaca y geryscopio en diálogo con Richie Morales. ¿Qué seres estamos gestando desde la práctica de la antropofagia? La mirada iracunda, la voz elevada, los dedos apretando el gatillo dos, tres veces por semana, las veces que sea necesario, para salvarnos del “enemigo”. Hemos prefigurado y configurado un sistema perfecto para gestar la violencia con un cinismo tal que ninguna legalidad la cuestiona, con nuestra antropofágica conducta hemos logrado ser los soldados que no se pueden soldar, las deudas que no se pueden saldar, viviendo la era del rojo, una era diseñada para emitir vibraciones a escala planetaria en los pulsos de cada sujeto muerto, naciente y matador. Somos cómplices y testigos de una maquinaria de guerra que fragmenta familias y mutila infancias en los diversos rincones planetarios donde se obtiene la materia prima para producir las armas que guardan en su centro la genealogía de la violencia contenida en las miradas, en el sudor, en la respiración acelerada, en el cuerpo desgarrado y hediondo.

La industria armamentista es el acto humano más destructivo de la Naturaleza.

En la producción tanto como al disparar un arma, incluyendo las armas de caza, se liberan materiales como plomo, cobre, zinc, antimonio e incluso mercurio, capaces de filtrarse en los suelos y el agua. Las municiones vienen recubiertas en plásticos de un solo uso que, normalmente, acaban en el océano. Nuestras montañas continuamente están siendo violadas por la explotación voraz que alimenta la producción brutal del armamento que nos mata. Ríos, mares y lagos muriendo envenenados por la codicia enloquecedora de la sed de guerra. Los ejércitos del mundo producen entre el 5% y 6% de la emisión global de CO2, incluyendo durante sus períodos fuera de combate. La muerte se asienta en los cuerpos y territorios violentados mucho después de terminados los ataques, transformando sus víctimas humanas, animales, terrenales y socioculturales para siempre. En un mundo donde las armas desde un gatillo, una bomba nuclear, un acuerdo bilateral, una decisión atravesando los canales neuronales para posicionar a la muerte como foco de acción, sentido de existencia y realización, ¿Cuánto realmente valoramos la vida? 6


65 Fábio Erdos

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FÁBIO ERDOS 65 °F. That was the temperature measured on February 6th, 2020, at the Argentinian research base “The Esperanza,” near the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula. It was also the warmest day recorded in the region’s history. In early 2022, the Southern Ocean ice coverage fell below 2 million square kilometers, representing a loss of an area roughly the size of Pennsylvania or Switzerland since the record was last broken in 2017. It’s the lowest sea ice coverage on record since satellite measurement began more than 40 years ago. Recent research shows that the south pole is warming three times faster than elsewhere, causing glaciers to melt and rising sea levels worldwide. The climate crisis has a more significant impact on the frozen continent than anywhere else.

The melting of the sea ice endangers the region’s marine ecosystem. Sea ice provides crucial shelter for the survival of marine animals, such as krill, a shrimp-like crustacean, and a primary food source for whales, penguins, and seals. In early 2022, the Greenpeace ship “Arctic Sunrise” carried a team of scientists and activists to the Antarctic waters. A two-person submarine filmed and collected samples of marine life from the ocean floor to build a case for establishing ocean sanctuaries that will protect areas of the Antarctic Ocean against fishing and other extractive activities. As a consequence of the lowest sea ice on record, the team was able to enter the remote Weddell Sea and conduct a dive at 65 degrees latitude, which is believed to be the southernmost scientific submarine dive in history.

A diverse, colorful, and abundant world inhabits the seabed beneath the icebergs of the Antarctic. It is a much less known environment than the one on the surface, but no less important for the continent’s ecosystem and to the rest of the world. 65 offers a glimpse of the most recent Greenpeace expedition into the AntarcThe seabed of the Antarctic is home to tic and its deep sea, revealing the abuncorals, sea stars, sea sponges, feather dant, and fragile, hidden underworld in stars, and uncountable other creatures. the coldest and one of the most remote In the Antarctic waters, animals and ma- regions on the planet. rine plants absorb and store carbon for thousands of years, reducing the temperature of the planet.

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Chief’s Daughter: Sunshine Double Vestige Hattie Lee

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H AT T I E L E E As a member of the Cherokee Nation, this process is a personal narrative of the Native American Diaspora. A relationship to and respect of the land continues to be an integral part of Native cultures. Indigenous peoples had to be inventive and purposeful with elements and resources as ancestors were removed from native homelands to new environments. This is not only instilled in my mind from native ancestry, but also from a rural Kansas upbringing- often long distances from goods or services people in metropolitan areas have easy access to, as well as a lot of time spent with my depression-era Grandmother who carries on material values I have literally saved many things from the formed by that time. trash can at a local thrift store- the last hope for unwanted items. What often isn’t seen are My family’s fiber history is included in my practhe sheer amounts of goods donation centers tice because the artistry and the usefulness are given, unable to house, resell, or staff just it has provided is something worth honoring, unknowledgeable about an object’s value. while adding my own voice to its historical When a thrift store needs room and has to timeline of use. Often, I find myself thinking take things off a shelf in order to put new do- about the story behind handmade goods and nations out…where does it go? Thrift stores the artisan who made or embroidered them. By integrating these in into my art, it is a coldon’t typically re-thrift. laboration with an artist I will never meet, yet A product of Cherokee, Scottish, Swiss-Ger- had their own important story and reason for man, and other diaspora, I am, in the very creating that doily, hot pad, or tatted collar. I makeup of my DNA, a collage of cultures, find a sacredness in the inclusion of someone values, histories, and personal aesthetics. I else’s creativity and existence on earth. The react by collaging materials from my ances- term “sacred” has most often been used with tors, contemporary community, and personal religious language. However, in my work, part life experiences. Graphic design, fine art, and of the definition of “sacred” is bringing reverfiber are all woven into my ancestral tapestry ence and respect to heritages and materials. the same way I weave in and out of mediums in my studio. Sometimes, literally. My weav- Reverence and respect are values in tribal ings are born out of utilizing bias tape, ribbons communities. Though translated differently and fabrics that are cast off, thrifted, or gifted through my own experiences, I continuously to me. I use them to weave basketry patterns, find myself circling back to the idea of a sahowever, I put these patterns in new contexts credness in valuing the past as well as the by using what I have on hand instead of buy- present, leading to the formation of a richer future. ing new products. My studio is a flux of mediums and objects in constant conversation with each other-nothing is off-limits to being repurposed and reimagined. I am preoccupied with finding a new visual purpose in my art practice for objects and materials that come into my hands and might otherwise have been headed to a landfill. The staggering amount of waste we create in our nation burdens me. Relationships I’ve built outside of the U.S. have opened my eyes to how we are seen by other countries, as well as the inconsistencies in various parts of our own nation as far as what is valued, accessible, or simply taken for granted.

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PAT R I Z I A F E R R E I R A “Después de mucho sufrir tan peligrosa inquietú, alcanzamos con salú a divisar una sierra y al fin pisamos la tierra en donde crece el ombú.” Martín Fierro José Hernández

The Tree of Life is a body of work that has at its center an Ombú tree. A centenarian dioecious evergreen tree native to the Pampa of Uruguay and Argentina. Not actually a tree but rather a monstrous, giant herbaceous plant that grows on dry land, can resist fierce winds and overcome the passing of time unperturbed. The Ombú is an allegorical representation which means to express Resilience. Human or otherwise. The pull of life. Stronger than anything we can quantify or even remotely understand. Capable of transforming, adapting, surviving. Our environment is giving us signs that we need to change our habits in order to preserve life on earth. We need to reduce our carbon footprint. One material that has become ubiquitous in our everyday life is plastic. Plastics have become essential components of products and packaging. They are durable, lightweight, and cheap. However, plastics are in essence a fossil fuel product and contribute to the generation of heat-trapping gasses at every stage of their life cycle. This has profound impacts on humans, animals, and all levels of life on earth. Trees are instrumental in cleaning the air from pollutants, absorbing carbon and other gasses from the atmosphere. However, they also can and do fall victim to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

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The pieces on display offer the observer several views. A macro view meant to imply the future. Our capacity to adapt and survive. The tree grows beyond its limits. It turns stronger. Its giant tuberous, rheumatic branches reaching out of its initial constraints in search of air and water. Its roots accumulating at the bottom resembling a pile of feces implying there is nothing left. A micro view, evocative of our tendency to mystify the past by imbuing it with an air of purity and nostalgia that only the perspective of time can produce. At the center of the image a girl, with tangling legs and an apple partly eaten between her hands, stares at us. Herself, a symbol to that ancestral, virginal view of the past. There is yet another view, a close-up version of the roots of the Ombú tree as it struggles for its survival. In some cultures, trees represent fertility. In Hermaphrodite, the roots of a tree, bleed and morph as it struggles to survive. Its entrails twisting, contorting in an agony to procreate, to live and give life. It bleeds and its bleeding represents pain, struggle, life and death. Issues of gender equality and feminism are always present in Patrizia’s work. She insists on making women be the protagonists in all of her pieces. In her utopian landscapes, the Earth and everything in it is female. Mother Earth we say, and it is she who rules. It is she who protects us, and it is she who feeds and nurtures us. Using embroidery and stitching techniques usually secluded to the domestic realm provide her with a particular esthetic language. A more intimate, quintessentially feminine language to express herself as she continues to raise these issues and techniques to a wider sphere of discussion and awareness.


The Tree of Life Patrizia Ferreira 12


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The Hinterland Lianne Milton


L I A N N E M I LT O N I met Joaquim and his wife, Doralice, at their gray adobe ​home in Bahia state in 2015. Billowing clouds hovered in the far distance. For a moment we were struck by the hope of rain. But Joaquim, a 71-year-old subsistence farmer chopping down a mandacaru tree, was worried. He said the Sertão is passing through a difficult moment. “You see animals eating trees,” Joaquim said, as he witnessed the land turning into desert. Today what little rain falls is not enough to grow crops. His family lost their seeds because everything they grew died. The plants used to be taller, fuller. Now they risk extinction. “It’s drying. The clouds don’t even come here.” The Hinterland explores marginalized rural communities in Brazil’s semiarid region, known as the Sertão, where its’ people and land are shaped by years of relentless drought, social inequality, and unsustainable land use. It is a place where waves of generations have abandoned as they migrated to prosperous cities, like Rio de Janeiro. In the Brazilian imagination, its story is about those who leave the region – not one of those who stay. The Sertão is largely forgotten because it is Brazil’s poorest and least developed area. It is characterized by unforgiving heat, slash-and-burn agriculture, scarce water resources, and severe environmental degradation of the unique

Caatinga biome. Home to nearly 22 million people, the region is the world’s most populated semiarid zone, with 35 percent living in extreme poverty. It is always on the brink of rain yet it rarely ever falls. Climate experts say the temperature in the Sertão already increased more than two degrees Celsius over the past thirty years and precipitation reduced to a third of its seasonal rainfall. The deforestation of the Amazon rainforest has been drastically altering the climate. The explanation behind these changes lies in a complex relationship between various ecosystems and micro-climates throughout Brazil. “The Amazon works as a giant pump channeling moisture inland via aerial rivers and rain clouds that form over the forest more dramatically than over the sea,” said Antonio Nobre, a researcher in the government’s space institute, Earth System Science Center. However, the forest is losing its ability to regulate weather systems, he said. Semi-arid regions are most vulnerable to climate change because of their reliance on scarce and seasonal rainfall. It is here in the hinterland where we see Brazil’s environmental crisis at its most acute. As deforestation accelerates under the current President Jair Bolsonaro’s government, increasing temperatures and prolonged droughts in the semiarid will intensify, making water even more scarce for subsistence farmers.

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“I G AT H E R E D S O M E O F T

T H E M TO T H

AND BEGAN CLEANING OF

TO M E T H I S ACT O F T E N

A CO N V E R S AT I O N I H T H AT M AY

S U RV I V E D B U T S T I L L H - RINA

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T H E R E M A I N S, B RO U G H T

H E S T U D I O,

F F T H E S O OT A N D A S H E S.

N D I N G WA S M O R E L I K E

HAD WITH THE TREES N OT H AV E

H A D A S TO RY TO T E L L.” YO O N

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D E R I C K W Y C H E R LY Nature is the combination of elements as they proceed in time. The rhythm of the DNA spiraling through us is synchronized with the sun, wind, water, air, and wilderness. Humans shape and are shaped by their environment, in a give-and-take dance through generations and ages. Hand made paper maps our relationships in place and time. Unfolded, it expands to mirror a vast territory of repeating landscape that changes slightly from panel to panel. These alterations represent the effects of time, change animates across the land and the vantage point of the viewer changes with

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it. Healing and learning are gifts of time. Embedded in the landscape are wrapped objects recorded in vivid inks. These brightly colored gifts in the landscape are that which we receive and that which we leave behind in an eternal system of exchange. Nature’s elements give freely and show us how to live. Our responsibility is to return this kindness with offerings of our own, using knowledge developed over many generations to forge and maintain mutually beneficial, reciprocal relations with one another and with the natural elements that we depend on to live.

Regional Fire Derick Wycherly


S PA R K E R

Venus Sparker

There is a certain safety in rendering an environment that is totally abstract, nonsensical, absurd. The non-narrative gives nothing to hold on to, no expectations or timeline to grasp, no events vulnerable to judgment. In this cavern, behind this curtain, I present only the fact of a material’s existence and the prism of illusions it can manifest. A chaos governed only by the physics of our three-dimensional world, this treasure of detritus can seemingly rotate, flip, or float. It can pounce like a paper tiger and scatter plastic shards like uncaged birds. The archi-

tecture yields wallpaper that rolls itself into tree branches while tree branches cast shadows to make wallpaper. Some shadows are fake, painted by hand next to ones that are real. We question their realness. The environment is an endless ballet; a dancer in a tunnel twisting trails on her toes. The room is an offering to cross through the tenderness of asking questions, the vulnerability of being untethered to a single story, a marriage of organism and artifice. The room is an ice rink, a jungle, a drawing.

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R I N A YO O N

Big Horn Fire Rina Yoon Extreme heat, high wind, years of drought. From the California coast to the southwest, the country is on fire. In the past ten years, hundreds of thousands of acres have burnt and are burning. In June 2020, I spent a month in Tucson, Arizona during the Bighorn fire, which devoured 120,000 acres of Santa Catalina Mountains. Ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice, we watched the mountain glowing red at night, nervously waiting for the monsoon season to start. It’s one thing to read about a catastrophic wildfire in Apple’s newsfeed. It’s another thing to witness one in close proximity. Two years later, I visited one of the burn sites. Life continues even where the fire had blazed through not too long ago. You can see new growth, shrubs and wild flowers blooming in stark contrast to charred and blackened mesquite and pine trees. In many cases, the heat of the blaze produced a gallery of grotesque forms: twisted trunks and warped branches and detached outer barks. Charred, naked, hollowed, the trees remain standing, as if they are there to tell us what they witnessed, hanging onto the memory. 19

I gathered some of the remains, brought them to the studio, and began cleaning off the soot and ashes. To me this act of tending was more like a conversation I had with the trees that may not have survived the fire but still had a story to tell. As I cleaned and added handcoiled paper, I felt connected to the beauty, horror, and resilience of nature. The aftereffects of wildfires are rarely part of their story, which ordinarily focuses on the spectacular blazes that ravage large tracks of parched wilderness. Windblown flames, record heat, Hotshot crews—these are the storylines. What is there to say about burn scars themselves? Whether forests will be resilient to things like wildfires and climate change is a huge question. A lot depends on the recovery time of areas damaged by severe burns, which can be long. A piece of forest with moderate harm might show robust signs of recovery a decade from now. A really bad burn area might not recover for 100 years. As I conceive it here, the process of healing begins now with a conversation with the remains of fire.


Mesquite 8 Rina Yoon 20


La Tierra Prometida Maria Amalia Wood 21


MARIA AMALIA WOOD When the water receded, there was mud and trash everywhere with a distinctive smell like a rotting dead animal. There was no water and the electicity was still gone. One of my friends took me to her house and as we walked in each room, she picked up different objects, wiping the mud off them. She picked up a broom and started sweeping the slush off the tiled floor. I didn’t say anything, “Mayita, Mayita, Mayita, get up”, I heard. but thought about how long it would take It was the middle of the night, and I her to sweep her entire home. thought I was dreaming. “The river is flooding the neighborhood, get up May- Sitting on my rooftop, I watched El ita” said the same voice. I opened my Rio Choluteca flowing with cars, trees, eyes, but I couldn’t see anything, the semi-trucks, and rubble. Like in a horror electricity was gone, and it was raining. movie, nature had become a monster, I got up and opened the door to my bed- devouring an entire country. Feeling room balcony that overlooked a cobble- helpless, I thought there was not much stone street. My neighbors, were yelling, we could do, after all, this monster was dogs were barking, kids were crying; it created by nature, not by humans. Little felt like the end of the world. In a matter did I know, I had the story wrong. of minutes El Rio Choluteca grew with such a force, destroying everything in Today, every house in my childhood its path including most of the houses in neighborhood has been restored. In my neighborhood. My house was on the the midst of tragedy, I watched how the hill, where everyone stood and watched community came together to mend what as their houses flooded. My friend sat was torn. Hondurans are resilient. down, with his hands covering his face, and weeping, he repeated over and But I wonder… over, “our house is gone, our house is gone”. What is the tensile strength of My brothers used to play baseball in a big field next to the river in our neighborhood called “El Rio Choluteca”. Some kids said the river was haunted, others said it was where people made out, and my grandma said it was the hiding place for thieves. I remember the river as the place where my brothers and I used to skip rocks.

On October 1998, I witnessed and lived through the deadliest Atlantic hurricane in Central America’s history. I had just celebrated my 15th birthday two weeks before Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras, my home country. Killing over 7,000 people and wrecking about 35,000 houses, Huracán Mitch left up to 1.5 million people homeless (20% of the country’s population).

the threads that hold our communities together? How long before mending what we have torn apart is no longer an option?

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NIRMAL RAJA A Reflection on Cloud Palace and Breath: Clouds have long invited and provoked our imagination worldwide. Much like the inkblot test, the associations and narratives we come up with as we gaze up to the sky can be reflective of our subconscious. Clouds have a very special significance in India. They are much anticipated as the carriers of the monsoon season after a long, dry summer. They bring hope and new growth to dry arid regions of India. Gathering dark clouds become metaphors for impending doom and parting clouds become metaphors for hope in mythological stories. The inspiration for Cloud Palace is an epic poem titled Meghdootam or “cloud messenger” written by a 4th-century Indian poet- Kalidasa. I read a translation of this work in 2013 and was struck by its beauty even in translation and separation in time. Originally written in Sanskrit, Meghdooam is a love poem. The protagonist, a Yaksha or magical being is cursed by his master Kubera, the god of wealth. He is separated from his wife and asks a cloud to take his message of longing to her. It is a beautiful and sensual work but also an incredibly rich love letter to nature and place. The poet maps out a route for the cloud to take, giving directions on where to rest, what to observe and places to avoid on its way to deliver this love letter to his wife. In doing so, the poet draws attention to our deep and intimate connection to nature. This epic poem is considered one of the major masterpieces in Sanskrit literature and it is packed with myth, longing, and romance. I was inspired to create a work where the viewer experiences a sense of weightlessness and levitation but one that also provokes a sense of romantic imagination. Here are a couple of excerpts from a translation of Meghadootam by Mani Rao: 23. For my darling’s sake For my happiness’ sake You’ll want to go fast, but I imagine You’ll linger on this hill and that Fragrant with Kakubha flowers Welcomed by peacocks with moist white-edged eyes

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I hope you’ll get up, somehow, and try to go quick 24. At your arrival in the Ten Citadels where geese have stayed a few days A commotion Shrub fringes a lighter shade with new Ketaka flower spikes In village squares Birds starting to nest clamor for leftover home-ritual offerings Edges of the forest a ripe rose-apple purple Breath: I am still connected to the land that produced a masterpiece such as Meghadootam- India. But each visit home, I see unsettling changes in the urban landscape. The cities are filled with traffic, noise, and pollution that seem to increase at unprecedented speed. It is hard for me to reconcile the current landscape with one that is celebrated in Meghadootam. Air pollution is especially high in the cities. In the city of Chennai, where my mother lives, the average air quality index is 117. In New Delhi, it is over 200. In contrast, Madison averages around 40. During my last visit to Chennai, I decided to make a series of works with the dust that collected on my mother’s balcony. I cut out the word “breath” in several major languages in India using adhesive tissue on paper and set them out on the balcony for 4-5 days. The once invisible adhesive tissue darkened as the dust gathered and stuck, making the word visible. The fine particulate matter generated by the cars, trucks, motorcycles, and scooters is what people in Chennai breathe day in and day out causing all kinds of respiratory problems, especially in little children. We all have a right to breathe clean air but this right is fast fading in the very country that celebrated its natural beauty in a poem such as Meghadootam. http://poetry.sangamhouse.org/2014/08/meghadutam-by-kalidasa-translated-by-mani-rao/


Cloud Palace Nirmal Raja 24


R O B E RT O T O R R E S M ATA We are in constant movement, seeking a place to call home. Most of us don’t migrate to settle across borders, but what does it mean to move to a different country, and change nationalities to settle in a new place? Growing up with migrant parents has taught me how to navigate through life as I make my journey as an artist. Refugees who experienced the obstacles that threaten the livelihood that my parents and other families have endured are the core of my practice. My work on migration examines the critical factors that cause displacement in countries that cause people to risk the chance of safer, better lives for themselves and their families. For this exhibition, I focus on Climate change as one of the major contributors to an economic downturn in major countries. As time continues, land that was once fertile for agriculture will dry and become uninhabitable. So, we must raise awareness to find balance without an environment that we are solely dependent on. Through my studio practice, I apply multiple forms of media to explore and understand the complexities that are between climate change and migration. By using multiple intersectional points of study, I utilize printmaking, papermaking, installation, and other means of experimental media. The series of works for the exhibition The Shape of The Environment consists of using both two-dimensional and sculptural works that bring awareness to the issues of climate change affecting our world by looking at factors that contribute to whole communities and populations being forced to leave their

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country. I draw and mark on handmade sheets of paper that are sustainably processed to make paper from locally derived mulberry plants. The visual work consists of showing people who have been left to defend themselves without food or water. Migration is constant with having thriving lands to sustain their populations as it will only accelerate with the rise of global conflicts. The untitled drawings are a prediction if we keep going on a path of exploitation of our limited resources at the cost of the planet. The walking sticks as part of a series of Safe Haven represent a tool for survival through the unknown landscape. A phenomenon that has contributed to our existence, is a movement where we share cultures and traditions with other communities. We thrive to find safety and opportunities by relocating to other countries, cities, and towns for the benefit of ourselves or our families. Migration has evolved and is forever engrained with human activity and survival instinct in the ever-changing climate. We have a responsibility to unite people by using art as a language to reach the audience to promote educational guidance through artistic movements. We are navigators, together we take paths to find solidarity with the promise of a better life. In our journey, I believe we can help shape the dialogue around migration while removing barriers of division and promoting compassion and humanity while taking action to prevent our planet from becoming uninhabitable.


A la Distancia / At the Distance Roberto Torres Mata

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Image of God Hong Huo

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HONG HUO Fire and water are two inseparable natural elements, a complementary pair in Chinese philosophy. They represent yin and yang, a metaphor for the two opposites in one body of work. These two elements are active in my practice. 水深火热 means ‘as deep as water, as hot as fire.’ I use this term to joke about how my grad school work developed. It can be a simile for a person’s life in agony, as ‘on fire’ and ‘in water’ are two very extreme conditions. Now I get to ‘formally’ introduce my work using this Chinese idiom. To me, living in isolation for almost two years during the pandemic was like living in deep water. I was enjoying the luxury of freedom but also suffering from extreme loneliness, living by myself in a foreign country. I started a new body of work titled Strange Dwelling in the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. I mixed ink with soap water. Then in the bathroom of my studio apartment I used my breath to blow bubbles onto paper to create abstract art. It was my fear and anxiety of breathing in the Covid virus that got me started on this experiment. I desired to seek moments of beauty in uncertain times. That desire kept me going further with this medium. In my MFA Qualifier show Flow (2021), I decided to explore the deeper connections between the natural elements of water and my complex narrative as a Chinese Christian woman living in the U.S. Collaborating with dancer Yaqi Wu, the ink painting captures my creating those bubbles and her dancing in and through time.

show H (2022) centered on fire. I created a multimedia installation using animation, live performance, and other mix media works. I narrated my own story based on two classic pieces of literature that are meaningful to my identity: The Dream of the Red Chamber and the Bible. Fire (火-huo) is embedded within my last name 霍 (Huo), the character my family use to represent our family name. Fire is used in ritual and sacrifice. This neon piece that I created is titled Image of God. I processed the glass by fire and then filled it with neon gas. I invented a Chinese character that represents my first and last name. The red ink written behind is the ancient Chinese character for god (神). Red is the color of signature stamps in traditional Chinese ink paintings, which represents authority. So I chose this color for my own story. This piece is a signature for all the other works. It brings me assurance of who I am. I live in two elements. I am a Chinese and a Christian woman living within diverse cultures, religions, and social systems.

We are all living in a diverse culture full of extremes in ideas, opinions, and environmental conditions. I hope that we can all ask ourselves a question whether we can find a balanced way to live in-between.

Since then I started to meditate more deeply about the materials I used. I began to explore the element of fire. My MFA thesis

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Earth’s Heart Core Beth Racette

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BETH RACET TE Gaia is the name the Ancient Greeks gave to the Earth Goddess, the Creator of Earth and the Universe. In the 1970s, biological systems theorists borrowed the name Gaia when they developed the theory that the Earth is a complex, living, self-regulating system with the capacity to maintain the conditions for life. Although this is a new idea for Western science, many Indigenous peoples have believed for generations that the Earth is a living being. My aim in creating these paintings is to learn about the Earth. I cast a wide net, explore as much as I can, and synthesize my findings visually. These paintings do not represent scientific concepts. I’m a dabbler in science.

But the paintings are partly inspired by my scientific learning and are an intuitive and impressionistic integration of my exploration. In the years since the industrial revolution, human exploitation and toxic activities have increasingly damaged the Earth’s biosphere. Today we humans are slowly waking up to the fact that we are destroying the earth’s living systems and hence ourselves. I often ask myself: how can we face the reality of this destruction? How do we evolve an awareness of our profound interconnectedness—an awareness powerful enough to inspire us to make the necessary changes to heal and protect our Earth?

Solar wind Beth Racette

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On display at the Arts + Literature Laboratory from August 23rd to November 4th 2022. All events are free and open to the public. Friday, August 26 - Exhibition Opening - 6-8pm Sunday, September 18 - Orientations: A Reading from the Tension Zones Collective Daybook 2-4pm Saturday, October 1 - Film Screening - 7-9pm Saturday, October 8 - Adult Papermaking Workshop - 2-4pm Sunday, October 16 - Discussion Event With Artists and Scientists - 2-4pm Friday, November 4 - Gallery Night Closing Event and Performance - 5-9pm

111 S. Livingston Street Suite 100, Madison, Wisconsin, 53703 (at the corner of S. Livingston and E. Main St.)