Keeper of the Waters

A city next to a body of water

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A Living Water Garden, Chengdu, China

For the last 50+ years, eco-artist and environmental activist Betsy Damon has devoted herself to community building – the coming together of individuals to achieve a common purpose. Since the 1980s, after a decade of engaging the public through public performances in New York City, she has worked at the intersection of art and science, focusing on the topic of water and on creating models for communities in the United States and China to know and become stewards of their own water sources. The brief descriptions below, highlighting four of Damon’s many exhibitions, ecological and sustainable design projects, publications, and organizations are only a brief glimpse into her prolific and important body of work.

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On Salt, Seaweed, and Disappearing Places

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Skin #9, algae, insect pins, 60” x 62,” 2021

California-based artist, writer, and researcher Christina Conklin grew up spending summers along the coast of Oregon where she first developed a relationship with and understanding of the ocean as “an infinite vessel” of ever-changing and interconnected living systems. For the last 12 years, her artwork has explored the intersection of art, science, and spirituality as it relates to the sea. 

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Water Conversations, The Goddess Brigid, and Mayflies

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49th Uranium Mining Legacy, Remembrance Day and Action Day, Navajo Nation, Grants Mining Belt, New Mexico, USA, July 12, 2018 .

Irish visual artist and researcher Anna Macleod has spent the last 15 years exploring the environmental, economic, spiritual, political, and scientific aspects of water through interdisciplinary collaborations, performance, public interventions, and socially engaged activism. 

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What Happens When an Artist Goes to Eden

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Eden in Iraq Wastewater Garden Project (2011-present), site drawing of El Chibaish, 26,250 square meters (6.4 acres, 2.6 hectares), rendering by Bernard Du, 2017)

In 2011, photographer and environmental artist Meridel Rubenstein envisioned creating a garden in southern Iraq where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers cross, near the supposed site of the biblical Garden of Eden. However, unlike its idyllic predecessor – a mythical paradise in a newly formed world – this new garden would help to heal what had become a fragile, desert wasteland by cleaning existing wastewater and establishing a culturally significant green space. 

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Waters of the Future

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Águas do Futuro, detail, mokuhanga on washi scroll(handmade Japanese paper), installed in Bahia, Brazil, 2018

For Brooklyn-based printmaker Florence Neal, water has always been a dominant presence in her life. She grew up in Columbus, Georgia, near the Chattahoochee River, which straddles the southern half of the Alabama and Georgia borders. There she developed an appreciation for the Native American stories about the river as well as first-hand knowledge of the negative impact that the cotton and iron mills of the past and the pervasive industrial pollution had had on its health.   

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An Interview with Artists Amanda Maciuba, Jen Morris & Jessica Tam

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Tip of the Iceberg by Amanda Maciuba, Jen Morris, Jessica Tam, dimensions variable, vinyl on glass and wall, 2021

This month, I have a wonderful interview with three artists for you. Amanda Maciuba, Jen Morris, and Jessica Tam are all visual artists working in different mediums. However, they share a fascination with how ecological language (surge, spike, wave, etc.) has worked its way into news reports’ descriptions of large phenomena such as crowds, pandemics, and political movements. They recently closed a show at the A.P.E., Ltd. Gallery in Northampton, Massachusetts titled WAVE/SURGE/SPIKE.

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Journey Toward a Turning Point

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Blazing, California Dreamin’, acrylic painting incorporating original hand-painted paper on stretched canvas, 30”x 40

Over the past decade, we have witnessed a proliferation of climate-related disasters across the world. Storms have become stronger, wildfires more intense. Sea ice is melting at a higher rate as the earth grows hotter. Each of these problems alone endangers human welfare. Together, they represent an existential threat. Scientists often describe our position as nearing a “tipping point” at which we teeter at the precipice of an irreversible cascade of ecosystem collapse. My new collaboration with fellow artist Carin Walsh presents a different view of our role in this crisis. It serves as a reminder that we are not passive observers of this disaster, but active agents with the ability to change course and build a safer and healthier future. Our message is that while the climate is approaching a tipping point, our society is at a turning point. We have the power to choose whether we will continue on our current path, or whether we will turn to embrace the measures necessary to reverse climate change.

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The Last Ones Standing

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Sea-Change Installation at MARS gallery, Melbourne, Australia, 2017. Photo by Matthew Stanton

Many artists have begun making work related to the climate crisis in recent years. But Australian visual artist Penelope Davis decided to address the subject eight years ago. Originally trained as a photographer with a portfolio including mainly camera-less photographs, she turned to sculpture and the looming environmental disaster after observing her first jellyfish blooms along the Melbourne coastline. Although alarmed by what appeared to be an unnatural and terrifying phenomenon, she was also attracted aesthetically to the jellyfish’s semi-transparency and how they reflected light. 

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On Bearing Witness and Embracing Beauty

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Unprecedented, 8 ft. x 15 ft., mixed media on canvas, 2021. Photo by Joseph Hu

For over fifty years, Philadelphia-based painter, photographer, and activist Diane Burko has translated her love for large open spaces and monumental geological sites into powerful and alluring landscapes. Her exhibition at the American University in Washington, D.C. (August 28 – December 12, 2021), titled Diane Burko: Seeing Climate Change 2002 – 2021, contained 103 paintings, photographs, and time-based media depicting mountains, oceans, snow and ice, glaciers, volcanos, and fires that address the growing impact of the climate crisis.

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