a collaboration with scientist and bark-beetles
flames pop open cones
bark peels, sap boils, needles flare;
charred soil awakens.
pine-cones. pine-bark beetles, re-purposed computer
24” (h) x 30” (w) x 30” (d) (with base)
photo credit: Myron Gage
Dr. Ankur Desai and I were invited to work together through the American Meteorological Society and curator Lele Barnett. We were tasked with exploring the ways in which artists and scientists could work together to communicate climate change information in 2010.
We found that we shared a love of trees, of being in the forests, and a deep sadness about the human-driven climate changes that were leading to the devastation of Pine forests. As the winters grow warmer, the natural cycles that balance the trees and the bark beetles has been disrupted, leading to tree deaths and enormous forest fires.
This sculpture questions the way western culture privileges certain kinds of knowledge (intellectual, linear, data-and language-based), and disregards other ways of knowing or sharing information (sensory, subjective, or from the non-human perspective).
I chose five poems, including the scientists' equation.
As poetically rigorous as haiku, this equation (monumentalized on the plaque) describes the atmospheric carbon cycle. For the scientist, the symbols elegantly express vast truths about life on Earth, as well as waypoints toward cataclysmic climate change.
For the artist, the poetry lay in the natural, symbiotic cycles of Pine Forest, Bark Beetle and Forest Fire ... disrupted by climate change and scapegoated to preserve capitalistic interests.
What does the Pine have to teach us? What does the Pine know about resilience, about acceptance of inevitable change, about fire as a regenerative force?
The lodgepole pine forests offer a view toward climate change, a window through which we might observe adaptive capacity or catastrophic extremes. A human-centrist perspective condemns the pine beetle and fears wildfires; but Dendroctonus may have much to teach us, just as the dung beetle enlightened the Pharaonic Egyptians. Human hubris denies that someday our contemporary culture will become another museum exhibit, rejecting the mirror of “otherness”.
Will climate change bring cataclysmic change? Perhaps. As metaphor or as reality, as an essential element or an uncontrollable terror, fire animates life. Will we animate our own passion, flexibility, generosity, humility, resilience?
The truths expressed by the forest form a succinct and elegant allegory, a poetry as rigorous and layered as mathematics or haiku.