Category Archives: anthropocene

HYBRID MATTERs exhibition: when biological and technological entities escape our control and transform the planet

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Exhibition opening. Photo by Anna Autio

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Exhibition opening. Photo by Anna Autio

The focus of the Nordic art&science network program HYBRID MATTERs is the hybrid ecology that emerges when our environment interacts with technology, when two spheres so far regarded as independent start to affect each other and form new entities with new qualities.

The HYBRID MATTERs exhibition which closed last month at Forum Box in Helsinki showed works, experiments and proposals which expose and explore this complicated liaison between our environment and technology.

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Laura Beloff and Malena Klaus, Fly Printer – Extended. Photo by Anna Autio

With art pieces that address plastic proliferation, global warming, the modification of species to satisfy capitalistic forces or the exploitation of natural resources, HYBRID MATTERs conjures all our darkest fears about the anthropocene. I would normally exit this kind of exhibition with a deep sense of doom and despair. This time however, the poetry, pertinence and also often the sense of humour embedded in the works took over and as i walked back to the hotel, i found myself thinking that we might still be able to make sense of the mess we’ve been so busy creating over the past few centuries. A twisted sense maybe but one that gives me home nevertheless. The show also left me looking at the world with even more questions than ever…

How do we fit in this hybrid ecology made of genetically engineered trees and machines that seem to gently breathe? How much in control of the hybridization process are we really? Should we expand and embrace new concepts of ecology or should we fight for our vision of an ideal (and possibly also outdated) ecology?

HYBRID MATTERs aims to provide a possibility to rethink and reevaluate our relations to this emerging world. As we humans drive this process of hybridization we are part of both the biological and technological. HYBRID MATTERs asks how we can address both ends and develop respectful and mutually beneficial forms of co-existence for all the actors in such a hybrid ecology.

I’ve already written about Laura Beloff and Jonas Jørgensen’s take on our postnatural Christmas trees and about Mari Keski-Korsu’s guerilla experiments in DIY climate manipulation. Here are some other works i found particularly interesting (or just beautiful to look at because i’m superficial like that) while i visited the show:

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Åsa Ståhl and Kristina Lindström, Plastic Imaginaries, 2016. Photo by Anna Autio

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Åsa Ståhl and Kristina Lindström, Plastic Imaginaries, 2016. Photo by Anna Autio

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Åsa Ståhl and Kristina Lindström, Plastic Imaginaries, 2016. Photo by Anna Autio

Plastics used to symbolize man’s mastery over nature. Today, they only evoke man’s poisoning and corruption of it. Plastics have invaded the ecosystem so intimately that researchers have identified a new kind of geological entity made of plastics, basalt stone, corals and more. They call it plastiglomerates.

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Plastiglomerate walk organised by Åsa Ståhl and Kristina Lindström. Photo by the artists

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Plastiglomerate found on Kamilo Beach, Hawaii. It combines basalt clasts, molten plastic, yellow rope, and green and red netting

Concerned by this plastics invasion, artists Kristina Lindström and Åsa Ståhl started looking into new places for plastic trash into our daily lives. They soon found some found for thought in a paper that details how common mealworms can biodegrade Styrofoam. The worms seem to be able to live on this depressing diet. It doesn’t even impair their ability to reproduce. Better yet, the animals digest and turn the plastic trash into a substance that can become a new soil component.

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Mealworms eating Styrofoam. Wei-Min Wu, a senior research engineer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, discovered the larvae can live on polystyrene. Image credit: Yu Yang

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Composting plastics. Photo by the artists

Just like the plastiglomerates, the Styrofoam-eating worms are examples of unintentional ‘encounters’ between man-made matter and natural matters. “We are curious about what these examples tell us with regard to whether we should or can continue to live with or without plastic in the future. These hybrid materials could be an asset in new design and offer potential for species to coexist,” said Kristina Lindström in an interview.

Ståhl and Lindström have since developed prototype kits for composting plastic. Their content is simple: a glass jar with mealworms and bit of extruded polystyrene inside. The duo then distributed the kits to participants around the Öresund Region to compost plastic waste into their home. Some of the participants regarded the mealworms almost as pets, found it cruel to give them styrofoam as snack and eventually fed them a ‘healthier and more natural’ diet. Others never managed to shrug off the disgust they felt for worms and found it difficult to welcome them inside their home.

The Plastic Imaginaries research project hints at a future where we might be able to find new roles and spaces in the ecology for plastic trash. Could one day plastic trash benefit the ecology instead of asphyxiating it slowly?

The morning after the opening of HYBRID MATTERs, Ståhl and Lindström organized a Composting Plastics workshop. Participants learnt how to DIY their own domestic plastic composting kit and at lunch they enjoyed a vegetarian meal while mealworms got to munch on styrofoam inside their little glass jars.

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Johanna Rotko, Yeastograms – Living Images, 2016. Photo by Anna Autio

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Johanna Rotko, Yeastograms – Living Images, 2016. Photo by Anna Autio

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Johanna Rotko, Yeastograms – Living Images, 2016

Yeastograms in Hybrid Matters exhibition in Forum Box, Helsinki

Yeastograms are living portraits of strangers whom Johanna Rotko met on the street. They are made of yeast cells cultivated on growing mediums. The developing process consists in exposing a raster image with Ultraviolet LED lamps onto the yeast. The UV-lights kills the cells that are not protected by the stencil. A photo gradually emerges from the surviving yeast cells. After the exposure the artists leaves the petri dishes as they are but regularly documents the evolution of the images by photographing them. Over time conflicts may arise when molds, bacteria or other unknown microorganisms appear in the petri dishes.

Because her artistic research explores how nature is affected by her actions, Rotko favours the use of image-making substances and processes that are as less toxic as possible. She has thus expanded her research to anthotypes where she prints photographs using plants such as microalgae spirulina, beetroots, blueberries and coffee. As for the yeastograms, they end up in the biowaste bin.

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Lawrence Malstaf, Folding, 2016. Photo by Anna Autio

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Lawrence Malstaf, Folding, 2016. Photo by Anna Autio

We are continually striving to be objective, we try to look from a distance, and we develop all kinds of technology to accomplish that, which is of course very interesting, but in a way this objectivity is something we know we will never really achieve, it’s a bit of an illusion. – Lawrence Malstaf

Folding combines 3D scanning, modeling software but also traditional origami techniques to build life-size kinetic sculptures and explore the boundary between representation and abstraction.

The sculptures expand, contract, and react according to how close you approach. Whether they are abstract models stuck on a wall or a human-like figure hanging from the ceiling, the sculptures have a clean and almost cold aesthetic but each of them seem to take an uncanny life in your presence, they breathe gently as if trying to communicate with the visitor…

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Kristiina Ljokkoi, Life Studies, 2016. Photo by Anna Autio

Life Studies is a city inside a terrarium. The total absence of humans in this micro city means that other forms of life are taking over the infrastructure and thriving: wood-decaying fungi and bacteria are breaking down the infrastructure and producing a substratum for new epochs.

With this work, Kristiina Ljokkoi looks at the changing idea of a city. For as long as we can remember, the role of the city was to shelter centres of human activities from the so-called untamed nature, be they wild beasts or weeds. The time has now come to reconsider the role of the city and its place in the broader ecosystem.

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Antti Tenetz, Wolfland, part of JÄLESTÄÄ TRACING. Photo by Anna Autio

Antti Tenetz, TRACING – JALESTAA trailer

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Hanna Husberg, In the Vast Ocean of Air, 2016. Photo by Anna Autio

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Hanna Husberg, In the Vast Ocean of Air, 2016. Photo by Anna Autio

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Hanna Husberg, In the Vast Ocean of Air, 2016

While most works about global warming focus on the very visible and material harbingers of change, Hanna Husberg‘s In the Vast Ocean of Air brings the emphasis on the most eluding, the most border-defying agent: air and the slow violence that is implicit in the compositional changes of the atmosphere.

The work comprises a video and a series of neon signs. The film is set in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, a region that has been subject to exploitation of natural resources since the early 1600s and also a region where the effects of climate change are particularly tangible, with temperatures getting shockingly warmer year after year.

As for the 5 neon signs, they are lit by ionised neon and argon gas producing their orange-red and blue glow. The signs evoke the carefully controlled temperatures found inside buildings all over the globe. Deriving, in large extent, from fossil fuels this energy to control the air is also a remnant of warmer climates in times past, that, while permitting vast accumulation of plants at high latitudes, would, however, be inhospitable for us humans.

Photos from the opening of the exhibition:

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Exhibition opening. Photo by Anna Autio

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Exhibition opening. Photo by Anna Autio

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Exhibition opening. Photo by Anna Autio

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Exhibition opening. Photo by Anna Autio

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Exhibition opening. Photo by Anna Autio

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Exhibition opening. Photo by Anna Autio

The HYBRID MATTERs exhibition, opened at Forum Box in Helsinki last November. It was part of the HYBRID MATTERs Nordic art&science network program which investigates the convergence of our environment with technology and essentially the intentional and unintentional transformation of our planet through human activity. The program took the form of a series of researches, encounters, art commissions, exhibitions and a symposium. I got the chance to attend the symposium and i’ll write down my notes about it very soon!

Previously: Albedo Dreams. Experiments in DIY climate manipulation, HYBRID MATTERs: The urks lurking beneath our feet and The Christmas tree, your typical postnatural organism.

Anthropocene, wars and greed. This must be the World Press Photo contest

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David Guttenfelder, North Korea: Life in the Cult of Kim

Each year, i try and find a moment to browse through the dozens and dozens of winning images from the World Press Photo competition. Since 1955, the contest has been honouring photographers reporting on the most remarkable (some of them alarmingly under-discussed) events in the last year. In this edition, many of the winning photos document the refugee crisis in Europe, wars (mostly in Syria), violence against women and there’s also a strong thread showing the Anthropocene at its most relentless.

All the winners are over here but here’s my selections. With swift copy/pasting action of the texts that accompanied the images. Let’s start with a sporty and fun series…

The Gris-gris Wrestlers of Senegal: Senegalese wrestling is the most popular sport in Senegal, attracting major sponsors and wide media coverage. Wrestlers can become national stars and extremely wealthy, with top prizes reaching hundreds of thousands of euros. The sport is part of a larger West African form of traditional wrestling, but differs in that the Senegalese version allows blows with the hands. It has its historical roots in preparations among warrior classes for battle, and is still seen as an indication of masculine strength and ability. Tournaments involve drumming and dance, and wrestlers practice a range of rituals—such as the presentation of amulets, and rubbing with lotions—to increase their chances and ward off bad luck.

© Christian Bobst - The Gris-gris Wrestlers of Senegal 02
Christian Bobst, The Gris-gris Wrestlers of Senegal, March 28, 2015 
(Sports, 2nd prize stories)

A tournament in the Adrien Senghor Arena in Dakar nears its end.

© Christian Bobst - The Gris-gris Wrestlers of Senegal 03
Christian Bobst, The Gris-gris Wrestlers of Senegal, April 5, 2015. 
(Sports, 2nd prize stories)

Superstar wrestler Omar Sakho (known as Balla Gaye 2) releases a dove for good luck, before a match with Eumeu Sène, at the Demba Diop Stadium.

Talibes, Modern-day Slaves: Series portraying the plight of Talibes, boys who live at Islamic schools known as Daaras in Senegal. Under the pretext of receiving a Quranic education, they are forced to beg in the streets while their religious guardians, or Marabout, collect their daily earnings. They often live in squalor and are abused and beaten.

A young talibe bound by chains in an isolation area of a daara in the city of Touba, May 27, 2015. In this daara the youngest talibes are shackled by their ankles to stop them from trying to run away. The chains length only allows them to use an improvised bathroom in a separate area of the daara. These children can stay like that for days, weeks, even months until they gain the marabout's trust. Their guardian explains " When I release them, I give them the freedom to beg like the rest of the Talibes".
Mário Cruz, 
Talibes, Modern-day Slaves, Thies, Senegal, 18 May 2015. 
(Contemporary Issues, 1st prize stories)

A young talibe bound by chains in an isolation area of a daara in the city of Touba, May 27, 2015. In this daara the youngest talibes are shackled by their ankles to stop them from trying to run away. These children can stay like that for days, weeks, even months until they gain the marabout’s trust. Their guardian explains ” When I release them, I give them the freedom to beg like the rest of the Talibes”.

Talibes sleep together inside a daara in Saint Louis, north of Senegal, May 21, 2015. The daara with over 30 children has no clean water and barely no electricity. Children sleep on the concrete floor without any protection.
Mário Cruz, 
Talibes, Modern-day Slaves
, Saint Louis, Senegal, 21 May 2015 (Contemporary Issues, 1st prize stories)

Talibes sleep together inside a daara in Saint Louis, north of Senegal, May 21, 2015. The daara with over 30 children has no clean water and barely no electricity. Children sleep on the concrete floor without any protection.

China’s Coal Addiction: A history of heavy dependence on burning coal for energy has made China the source of nearly a third of the world’s total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the toxic pollutants widely cited by scientists and environmentalists as the primary cause of global warming.

<> on December 10, 2015 in UNSPECIFIED, China.
Kevin Frayer, China’s Coal Addiction, Shanxi, on 26 November 2015 
(Daily Life, 1st prize singles)

Chinese men pull a tricycle in a neighborhood next to a coal-fired power plant in Shanxi, China.

Slovenia Digging the Future: As the price of gold fell, people began to dig ever deeper to find enough to make a daily wage. Arzuma works some 20 meters underground. Mining under these conditions is backbreaking labor during which miners are constantly breathing in dust. The subsequent process of extracting the gold exposes them to mercury and cyanide.

Arzuma Tindano (28) leads an eight-member crew of miners at Djuga, an artisanal mine in north-eastern Burkina Faso. They all trust him. They believe in his strength and his judgment.  His 'office' is a 20 meters deep, narrow, dangerous and claustrophobic pit. The air there is thick, hot and humid with constant dust atacking his longs. He is just about to go into his pit again to do his night shift after he finishes his cigarete. Working in the night is better, he says, because the air is a bit cooler.
Matjaz Krivic, Slovenia Digging the Future, November 20, 2015 
(People, 2nd prize singles)

Arzuma Tinado (28) leads an eight-member crew of miners at Djuga, an artisanal gold mine in north-eastern Burkina Faso. Around 15,000 people work in the area, in pits hacked into the ground, some barely wider than a manhole.

He is just about to go into his pit again to do his night shift after he finishes his cigarete. Working in the night is better, he says, because the air is a bit cooler.

An Antarctic Advantage: Chilean, Chinese and Russian research teams in Antartica seek to explore commercial opportunities that will arise once the treaties protecting the continent for scientific purposes expire.

The continent is supposed to be protected as a scientific preserve for decades to come, but many are looking toward the day those protective treaties expire — and exploring the strategic and commercial opportunities that exist right now.

5. ANTARCTICA - DECEMBER 03, 2015: Priest, Father Benjam Maltzev looks on in the Bell room, after a vigil at the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity on the 3rd of December, 2015 at the Bellingshausen Russian Antarctic research base in the Fildes Peninsula on King George Island, Antarctica.  More than a century has passed since explorers raced to plant their flags at the bottom of the world. But today, an array of countries are rushing to assert greater influence in Antarctica. Russia built the continent’s first Orthodox church, pictured here, on a glacier-filled island with fjords and elephant seals. Less than an hour away by snowmobile, Chinese labourers have updated the Great Wall Station, a linchpin in China’s plan to operate 5 bases on Antarctica. And India’s futuristic new Bharathi base resembles a spaceship. The continent is supposed to be protected as a scientific preserve for decades to come, but many are looking toward the day those protective treaties expire — and exploring the strategic and commercial opportunities that exist right now.
Daniel Berehulak, 

An Antarctic Advantage, 3rd of December, 2015 
(Daily Life, 1st prize stories)

Priest, Father Benjam Maltzev looks on in the Bell room, after a vigil at the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity at the Bellingshausen Russian Antarctic research base in the Fildes Peninsula on King George Island, Antarctica.

6. ANTARCTICA - DECEMBER 07, 2015: A Member of a German research team from the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, counts the number of penguin species and pairs as part of ongoing research on bird and penguin species in Antarctica, on 7th of December, 2015 on Ardley Island in the Fildes Peninsula on King George Island, Antarctica. Yardley Island has been designated an Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA 150) because of the importance of its seabird and penguin colonies. More than a century has passed since explorers raced to plant their flags at the bottom of the world. But today, an array of countries are rushing to assert greater influence in Antarctica. Russia built the continent’s first Orthodox church, pictured here, on a glacier-filled island with fjords and elephant seals. Less than an hour away by snowmobile, Chinese labourers have updated the Great Wall Station, a linchpin in China’s plan to operate 5 bases on Antarctica. And India’s futuristic new Bharathi base resembles a spaceship. The continent is supposed to be protected as a scientific preserve for decades to come, but many are looking toward the day those protective treaties expire — and exploring the strategic and commercial opportunities that exist right now.
Daniel Berehulak, 

An Antarctic Advantage, Fildes Bay, Antartica, 07 December 2015 
(Daily Life, 1st prize stories)

A member of a German research team counts the number of penguin species and pairs as part of ongoing research on bird and penguin species in Antarctica.

7. ANTARCTICA - NOVEMBER 28, 2015: The winter expedition crew of Russian research team and (R) Chilean scientist Dr Ernesto Molina, drink "Samagon" a home-made vodka, as they sit in a bedroom of  the Bellingshausen Antarctica base on the 28th of November, 2015 near Villa Las Estrellas, in the Fildes Peninsula on King George Island, Antarctica. More than a century has passed since explorers raced to plant their flags at the bottom of the world. But today, an array of countries are rushing to assert greater influence in Antarctica. Russia built the continent’s first Orthodox church, pictured here, on a glacier-filled island with fjords and elephant seals. Less than an hour away by snowmobile, Chinese labourers have updated the Great Wall Station, a linchpin in China’s plan to operate 5 bases on Antarctica. And India’s futuristic new Bharathi base resembles a spaceship. The continent is supposed to be protected as a scientific preserve for decades to come, but many are looking toward the day those protective treaties expire — and exploring the strategic and commercial opportunities that exist right now.
Daniel Berehulak, 

An Antarctic Advantage, 28th of November, 2015 
(Daily Life, 1st prize stories)

The winter expedition crew of Russian research team and (R) Chilean scientist Dr Ernesto Molina, drink “Samagon” a home-made vodka, as they sit in a bedroom of the Bellingshausen Antarctica base near Villa Las Estrellas, in the Fildes Peninsula on King George Island, Antarctica.

Daily 
Haze in China: Tianjin, the fourth most populous city in China, is an industrial and logistics hub. Its port forms a gateway to the national capital, Beijing. Hazardous smog blanketing China’s northeast triggered red alerts in a number of cities throughout the month, including Beijing and Tianjin. Schools were advised to stop classes, and people were told to stay inside and restrict vehicle use.

© Zhang Lei - Haze in China
Zhang Lei, Daily 
Haze in China, December 10, 2015 (Contemporary Issues, 1st prize singles)

A cloud of smog hangs over Tianjin, in northeastern China.

Tough Times for Orangutans: Orangutans are found in the wild only in the rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo. Sumatran orangutans are on the IUCN Red List as a ‘critically endangered’ species, with around 7,000 living out of captivity. Borneo orangutans, the world’s largest tree-dwelling animal, are listed as endangered. Numbers of both are decreasing sharply. Orangutans are facing a crisis in habitat, as logging activity, conversion to agriculture, and fires consume their forests. They are also poached for the illegal pet trade. In 2015, wildfires—spurred by drought and the effects of El Niño—devastated vast areas of rainforest in Sumatra and Borneo, driving out orangutans and putting them in increased danger from poachers, and into conflict with farmers as they searched for food.

A keeper at IAR transports a group of juvenile orangutans by wheelbarrow to a patch of forest where they will learn skills for the wild International Animal Rescue (IAR)KetapangWest Kalimantan ProvinceIsland of BorneoIndonesia
Tim Laman, Tough Times for Orangutans, June 13, 2014 
(Nature, 1st prize stories)

A keeper at IAR transports a group of juvenile orangutans by wheelbarrow to a patch of forest where they will learn skills for the wild International Animal Rescue (IAR)in Ketapang,Island of Borneo, Indonesia.

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Tim Laman, Tough Times for Orangutans, August 12, 2015 
(Nature, 1st prize stories)

A young male Bornean orangutan climbs 30 meters up to the crown of a fruiting strangler fig tree to feed, deep in the rainforest in the Gunung Palung National Park.

Ivory Wars: The trade in poached ivory is financing rebel armed militia across Africa, such as the Lord’s Resistance Army, Seleka rebels of the Central African Republic (CAR), the Janjaweed of Sudan, and the FDLR in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Various national armies actively trade with these groups, and centuries-old Sudanese poaching cartels participate in sending large bands of armed men across borders to kill elephants. Patrols of dedicated rangers around the continent are on the frontline of attempts to thwart the trade.

ZAKOUMA NATIONAL PARK, CHAD: Rangers from a horse patrol group exhibit their riding skills as they return to base at Zakouma National Park, Chad after weeks on elephant patrol. The horse patrols are the old guard of Zakouma's rangers and have seen a good deal of conflict in their time in the park. Zakouma lost nearly 75% of its elephants in the decade before 2011 due to raids by Janajaweed and Sudanese poachers, many of them from the Sudanese military. The president of Chad, Idris Deby, is a big supporter of the elephant of Zakouma and of its elephants. The herds here until recently used to be as large as 1000 animals all moving together, severe poaching over the last decade saw that number decimated and now only around 10% of the number remains. Since 2011 however there has been control over poaching and only 3 elephant have been poached in the last 2 years. The credit for that lies with these rangers and the new management of the park, including nomad groups who are a vital part of intelligence gathering for Zakouma.
Brent Stirton, Ivory Wars, January 7, 2015 
(Nature, 2nd prize stories)

Rangers exhibit their riding skills as they return to base at Zakouma National Park, Chad, after weeks on elephant patrol. The park lost nearly three quarters of its elephants in the decade up to 2011, due to raids by Janjaweed rebels and poachers from Sudan. Since then—with the park under new management—Zakouma rangers, helped by intelligence from nomad groups, have eliminated poaching almost completely.

NZARA, SOUTH SUDAN: Michael Oryem, 29, is a recently defected Lord's Resistance Army fighter who's former L.R.A group is involved in the poaching of Ivory in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Garamba is a former base of operations for the LRA and a major source of financing for the notorious group. Oryem is seen with 2 of 6 ivory tusks that he hid and then led the Ugandan forces to inside the border region of the Central African Republic. He claims that the LRA killed many elephants in Garamba National Park in the DRC and that he was ordered by Joseph Kony, the LRA's notorious leader, to bring the ivory to him in Darfur, South Sudan. Ivory is now a real means of financing for the LRA, it is used for both food and weapons supplies and is traded to the Sudanese Army who transports it north to Khartoum. Oryem was abducted by the group when he was 9 and lived with them for over 17 years in the wild. He was made a commander in the group at the age of 12. The LRA is infamous for the killing and abduction of thousands of civilians across multiple countries. He defected and is now a recent new member of the Ugandan Army, UPDF, African Union force hunting the LRA.
Brent Stirton, Ivory Wars, November 17, 2014 
(Nature, 2nd prize stories)

Michael Oryem (29) poached elephant with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), operating mainly in the Garamba National Park in DRC. He says he was asked by LRA leader Joseph Kony to take ivory to him in Darfur, Sudan, and that the LRA trades the ivory to the Sudanese Army. Oryem defected from the LRA and helped take Ugandan forces through the border into the Central African Republic to retrieve a stash of ivory he had previously hidden. He is carrying two of the six tusks he hid.

Ivory is now a real means of financing for the LRA, it is used for both food and weapons supplies and is traded to the Sudanese Army who transports it north to Khartoum.

GULU, UGANDA, 21 November 2014: Margret Acino, 32, is one of hundreds of thousands of victims of the L.R.A; a rebel group that now relies heavily on ivory to fund their terror campaign. She was attacked by members of the Lord’s Resistance Army when she was 23 and 9 months pregnant. Her lips, ears and nose were cut off and her breasts were hacked off by the rebels. Margret and a small group of villagers had gone to the fields for crops when they found themselves surrounded. They were taken quickly to an area outside of Gulu where the men accused them of informing on the LRA to the Ugandan Army. Two men and a child were then immediately killed with the hoes they had been carrying for farming. The commander of the rebels accused them again, confronting Margaret and accusing her of being the wife of a soldier. Her husband was in fact a simple farmer. The LRA commander then killed another women in front of her. He said this must be the truth or how could she be so confident in talking with them. He then said he would teach her not to inform ever again. He ordered his men, mostly young teenagers, to produce a razor blade. They hesitated and the commander then threatened his own men, one of them then produced a razor blade and they were ordered to cut off Margret’s lips, ears and nose, a practice that was an LRA trademark at the time. When the men were finished, Margret was released and told to run. She passed out from loss of blood shortly thereafter and when she revived she found a man with a bicycle who took her to an IDP. She was in surgery for 2 days, her baby was born via an emergency caesarian and Margret then lapsed into a coma for 5 days. She has had 7 surgeries since to try to repair her ravaged face. The LRA commander who ordered this brutality subsequently defected and was given amnesty. Margaret saw him at a World Vision camp and became hysterical, telling people he was the one behind her tragedy. He was moved from the camp but not prosecuted. Margret has subsequently forgiven him, saying that it is easier to live with things this way. Her husband was less supportive and abandoned her, saying she was too damaged to be his wife, leaving her to fend for herself and her four children. He slept with other woman but still forced himself on Margret, tragically he became HIV+ and infected her too. He subsequently died in 2010 and his father banned Margret from his land, saying he never wanted to see her again. Her own brother is currently trying to take the small garden she uses for cultivation for her and her children; he was the first person to tell her she was ugly after she was brutalized. In a rare show of support, her former husband’s younger brother now lives with Margret and helps her to raise her children. Her biggest concern is how they will live once she passes on, as she believes she will do from Aids. Margret is still fearful of the LRA, believing that if left unchallenged it will be possible for their leader Joseph Kony to once again become active in Uganda. Atrocities like the one suffered by Margret are still being committed by the LRA, only now most often in Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Brent Stirton, Ivory Wars, November 21, 2014 
(Nature, 2nd prize stories)

Margret Acino (32) was abducted from a field outside her village by the Lord’s Resistance Army, who accused her of informing on them to the Ugandan Army. She was mutilated before being released.

Sexual Assault in America’s Military: The incidence of sexual assault on women by their colleagues in the US Armed Forces is high. Many women see reporting attacks to their commands as difficult or futile. Very few sexual assaults are reported and only a fraction of those get to court. The trauma of a sexual assault, and the ensuing emotional distress, may lead to long-term personal issues. The effects of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) include drug and alcohol dependence, homelessness, and an increased risk of suicide. Challenges for women veterans are not always met by existing vet programs. Women veterans form the fastest growing segment of the homeless population of the US, and are four times more likely to be homeless as other women.

The photographer, who comes from a military family, made it her mission to document the lives of MST survivors, and to keep the issue talked about. She learned that they formed a network of support for each other, but that homeless survivors were a hidden population, who rarely spoke to others about their experiences.

Homeless veteran Darlene Matthews has been living in her car for over two years while she waits for a housing voucher from the VA. She joined the US Army in 1976 and was sent to Fort McLellan, Alabama. "I was going to join this all women's army and there would be no sexual problems but I joined and there were sexual problems." She was beyond horrified when she discovered that it wasn't a safe place and instead full of "illegal punishments and all this sexual stuff. The whole atmosphere was abusive." Her life spiraled down after she got out of the military and found herself very depressed. She joined the military to escape a chaotic abusive home life and was forced back into it when she was discharged.  She has been fighting with the VA for benefits including housing vouchers but has been living in her car in the parking lot of a mortuary next to a graveyard. "It's like being in a fun house and every door gets slammed in your face every time you try to leave. I feel like giving up sometimes, and nobody would care."
Mary F. Calvert, 
Sexual Assault in America’s Military, December 1, 2014. Long Term Projects, 1st prize

Veteran Darlene Matthews has been living in her car for more than two years, while she waits for a housing voucher from the VA. Darlene joined the military in 1976, to escape an abusive home life, but was upset to discover that the army was not a safe place. After her discharge, she became depressed, and her life went into a downward spiral.

Gary Noling stands in his daughter Carrie's bedroom on the anniversary of her suicide in Alliance, Ohio. US Marine Carrie Goodwin suffered severe retaliation after reporting her rape to her commanders. Five days after she was went home with a bad conduct  discharge, she drank herself to death. "it destroyed my family. When Carrie died i lost all three of my kids and my grandkids. I lost two thirds of me. Two thirds of me is in that box of ashes."
Mary F. Calvert, 
Sexual Assault in America’s Military, March 1, 2014. Long Term Projects, 1st prize

Gary Noling stands in his daughter Carrie’s bedroom, on the anniversary of her suicide. She drank herself to death following severe retaliation after reporting her rape to superiors.

Debra Filter joined the US Army in 1978 and went through boot camp at Fort Ord, Georgia. In those days, the women trained just like the men did. Her drill sergeants were Viet Nam vets and "wanted to make sure all the recruits felt a piece of Viet Nam. A lot of it was a "Full Metal Jacket" experience," she says. Debra and several other women recruits were raped at the party they were forced to attend upon graduation. "We didn't realize it was for women and that a great many of us were going to be raped." "I wanted to make the military my career. Rape stopped my career, stopped any dreams I ever had." Her PTSD festered and Debra eventually left the military with an honorable discharge. Though educated with a Masters Degree, she has been homeless for 10 years and has battled the VA for benefits for 30 years. She left Las Vegas when the VA pulled her benefits. Debra thinks it was in retaliation for her homeless activism. She says the teardrop tattoo under her eye is a symbol of how the VA tried to kill her. She has been in and out of shelters in LA and now has a housing voucher for a studio apartment in Korea-town in Los Angeles, CA.
Mary F. Calvert, 
Sexual Assault in America’s Military, November 29, 2014. Long Term Projects, 1st prize

Debra Filter was raped with several other recruits at a boot camp graduation party they were forced to attend in 1978. For a long time she suffered from PTSD, and eventually left the army. She has been homeless for ten years and wrangling with Veterans Affairs for benefits for decades, but now has a VA housing voucher for a studio apartment.

North Korea: Life in the Cult of Kim: North Korea has been one of the most isolated and least understood countries. Few outsiders have ever had a glimpse of the country and there have been very few independent photographs ever made there. This series documents urban and rural North Korea, capturing the daily life of its citizens, military events and ceremonies.

At dusk, the skyline of central Pyongyang, North Korea.
David Guttenfelder, North Korea: Life in the Cult of Kim, April 12, 2011 (Long Term Projects, 3rd prize)


At dusk, the skyline of central Pyongyang, North Korea.

A North Korean man checks his bicycle next to a painted exclamation point on a propaganda billboard on Wednesday April 24, 2013 in Kaesong, North Korea, north of the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas.
David Guttenfelder, North Korea: Life in the Cult of Kim, April 24, 2013 (Long Term Projects, 3rd prize)


A man checks his bicycle next to a painted exclamation point on a propaganda billboard in Kaesong, North Korea.

© Chen Jie - Tianjin Explosion
Chen Jie, Explosion, 15 August, Tianjin, China (General News, 3rd prize singles)

A large pit, wrecked vehicles and damaged buildings remain in the aftermath of explosions in the container storage station of a logistics company in the Port of Tianjin, northeastern China.
The warehouse, owned by Ruhai Logistics, was registered for storage of hazardous chemicals. Safety regulations stipulating that public buildings should be at least one kilometer away were not heeded. A series of explosions at the facility resulted in damage to some 17,000 residences and 8,000 vehicles, killing over 170 people (95 of them firefighters) and injuring hundreds more. Later investigation concluded that the first explosion occurred in an overheated container of dry nitrocellulose, which set off further explosions, including one that involved the detonation of around 800 tons of ammonium nitrate.

San Pedro Sula, HondurasHe became the fourth victim on the same street that night. The rival 18th Street gang surprised their enemies MS13 and shot them dead. Police have no witnesses to the event and probably the murder will never be solved.
Niclas Hammarström, Gang-related Violence, 4 March, San Pedro Sula, Honduras 
(Spot News, 3rd prize singles)

A man lies dead after a gang shoot-out in San Pedro Sula. He was the fourth victim on the same street of an ambush by members of the 18th Street gang on their rivals MS13.

Honduras is at the top of the world’s homicide list, with over 7,000 homicides a year in a population of eight million. Most of the violence is gang-related, in a country which is on a transit route for drugs, and where corruption is widespread and gangs wield great power.

1. Tapajós River, Itaituba, Pará State, Brazil, on February 10, 2015. Indigenous children jump into the water as they play around the Tapajós river, in the Munduruku tribal area called Sawré Muybu.
Mauricio Lima, Amazon’s Munduruku Tribe 
(Daily Life, 2nd prize singles)

Indigenous Munduruku children play in the Tapajos river in the tribal area of Sawre Muybu, Itaituba, Brazil on 10 February 2015.

The tribesmen of the Munduruku, who for centuries have sanctified the Tapajos River on which their villages sit, are fighting for survival. Brazil’s government plans to flood much of their land to build a $9.9 billion hydroelectric dam, the Sao Luiz do Tapajos, as part of a wider energy strategy across the Amazon rainforest.

Lamon Reccord, left, scolds a police sergeant during a police violence protest and march at State and Randolph streets Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, in Chicago.(John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)
John J. Kim, March Against Police Violence, November 25, 2015 (Contemporary Issues, 3rd prize singles)

Lamon Reccord stares down a police sergeant during a march against police racial violence. Protests had taken place almost daily after the release of a police car dashcam video showing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being fatally shot by a Chicago police officer. McDonald, who was armed with a knife, was shot 16 times by the officer, who said he feared for his life. The protest was one of a number that occurred throughout the year, following episodes elsewhere in the country where police were accused of using excessive force against black men, often involving fatal shootings.

Reporting Europe’s Refugee Crisis: Over one million refugees entered Europe in 2015, the vast majority arriving by sea, through Greece and Italy. Many landing in Greece wanted to move on, through the Balkan countries, to enter the Schengen Area of the European Union, where movement between member states does not require a passport. Balkan countries tended to steer refugees towards the next border, in the largest movement of people on the continent since World War II. Hungary, to the north, closed its frontiers, first with Serbia, then with Croatia.

7 - A Slovenian police officer on horseback escorted migrants after they crossed from Croatia.
Sergey Ponomarev, Reporting Europe’s Refugee Crisis, October 20, 2015 (General News, 1st prize stories)

A Slovenian police officer on horseback escorts refugees after they crossed from Croatia.

3. Hasaka, Syria - August 1, 2015A doctor rubs ointment on the burns of Jacob, 16, in front of a poster of Abdullah Ocalan, center, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, at a YPG hospital compound on the outskirts of Hasaka. According to YPG fighters at the scene, Jacob is an ISIS fighter from Deir al-Zour and the only survivior from an ambush made by YPG fighters over a truck alleged to carry ISIS fighters on the outskirts of Hasaka. Six ISIS fighters died in the attack, 5 of them completely disfigured by the explosion.
Mauricio Lima, IS Fighter Treated at Kurdish Hospital, 1 August, Hasaka, Syria (General News, 1st prize singles )

A doctor rubs ointment on the burns of a 16-year-old Islamic State fighter named Jacob in front of a poster of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, at a Y.P.G. hospital compound on the outskirts of Hasaka, Syria on 01 August 2015.

Aftermath of Airstrikes in Syria: The city of Douma in Syria lies in opposition-held Eastern Ghouta, an agricultural area on the outskirts of the capital Damascus. Douma and other small towns in Eastern Ghouta came under heavy shelling and bombardment. Responsibility for the attacks was difficult to verify.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that parts of the region had been under continuous siege by government forces since 2013, resulting in severe shortages of food and medical supplies. People fleeing the attacks, and the deprivation caused by the siege, joined the millions of internally displaced people within Syria and the 4.6 million registered refugees abroad.

A man carries his bicycle past debris and burning cars following reported airstrikes in the town of Hamouria in the eastern Ghouta region, a rebel stronghold east of the Syrian capital Damascus, on December 9, 2015. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 11 civilians, including four children, were killed in strikes on the town of Hamouria, but said it was unclear if they were carried out by Russian or regime aircraft. AFP PHOTO / SAMEER AL-DOUMY
Sameer Al-Doumy, 
Aftermath of Airstrikes in Syria, December 9, 2015 (
Spot News, 1st prize stories)

A man pushes his bicycle past debris following airstrikes in Hamouria, Syria.

The photos will be shown at the 2016 World Press Photo Exhibition, Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall in London on 4 – 21 November 2016. And in many other cities around the world.

Previously: Slaughtered caimans, threatened orangutans and other tragedies at the World Press Photo exhibition, World Press Photo, the most spectacular works of photo journalism from the year 2010, FotoGrafia, Rome’s international festival of photography – Part two and World press photo exhibition.

Eulogy for the weeds. An interview with Ellie Irons

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Field work in a research meadow at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado, photo credit Dan Phiffer

Ellie Irons is one of those rare artists whose work opens your eyes to what is just under your nose but remains unnoticed. Some artists bring the spotlight on data collecting, others on corruption, corporate malpractice, or land grabbing. Ellie forces us to consider the value of the wild and often reviled urban ecology that sprouts all around us. She uses galleries to provide asylum to wild and invasive plant species, extracts the pigments from local weeds to paint their map-like portraits, photographs the vigorous life growing inside vacant lots, and is actively collecting the seeds of the most humble but robust plants that mirror population flux in globalized cities.

Irons’s practice is charming because it inspires a new form of romanticism that has the potential to give informal urban green spaces the respect they are due. But it is also a crucial and thought-provoking work that reminds us that the anthropocene is far more than everyone’s favourite buzzword, or a calamity striking people living at the other side of the world. It is a sword of Damocles that sooner or later will force us to make difficult choices and reevaluate our relationship with nature.

Ellie Irons studied art and environmental science in Los Angeles, she is now a multidisciplinary artist and an adjunct professor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. When she is not busy teaching, doing workshops or preparing exhibitions, she still finds some time to answer my many questions:

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The Sanctuary for Weedy Species, 2015, part of Rail Curatorial’s Social Ecologies exhibition in Industry City, curated by Greg Lindquist. Photo credit Ellie Irons

Hi Ellie! You made a Sanctuary for Weedy Species and allowed them grow undisturbed. How do these plants behave when left to thrive? Did you monitor their growth and had to intervene at some point because some were overtaking others?

Yes, that’s right. My Sanctuary for Weedy Species is an ongoing project that got its start as part of the exhibition Social Ecologies. For that show, curator Greg Lindquist offered me the opportunity to “activate” a gallery floor covered with soil (the project has now moved on to the Emergent Ecologies exhibition at Kilory Metal in Fort Greene, Brooklyn).

I decided to base my approach to this opportunity on my interest in spontaneous urban plants (often described as weeds). I gathered more than 200 young wild plants from the edges of construction sites and street tree pits in my then-neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn. I selected plants from places that I knew would soon be “cleaned up” or paved over. I transported these young plants to the gallery and embedded them in the soil covering the gallery floor, where they lived for the next 2.5 months.

Growing tough, weedy plants in a controlled gallery setting is not quite as easy as it might sound. For one thing, plants growing outside have allies that are hard to replicate in a clean, isolated indoor space. Outdoors, predators like lace wings and ladybugs devour herbivorous insects, and regular rainstorms and fluctuations in temperature also help hold their populations in check. In the warm, consistent gallery space, aphids and other plant-hungry insects flourished.

I was lucky to have a very conscientious gallery attendant who took on the role of aphid predator, regularly spraying the plants with neem oil and washing them with water and other organic, insect-deterring solutions. Otherwise the various plants played fairly nicely together, except for a few allelopathic plants (like ailanthus and honey locust) which killed off everything in their vicinity and took over their respective patches. But I didn’t do any “weeding” other than weeding out some of the hungry aphids!

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Feral Landscape Typologies. The rise, fall and rise of a lot at the corner of Irving Avenue and Cooper Avenue from May-October 2015. Photo by the artist

I’m fascinated by the ‘invasive species’ discussions. Your work makes a lot of sense to me but i’m wondering how scientists might react to your ideas about invasive species. Have you discussed with some of them? Is the scientific community agreeing on the necessity to eradicate all invasive species because they will lead to environmental damage? Or is there a lot of dilemmas and debates there as well?

The scientific community, as I’m familiar with it, seems to be of many minds when it comes to weedy species. I ask specialists like biologists, ecologists, foresters, and botanists about these issues whenever I get the chance! I’ve found that some don’t even like the term invasive, preferring a to describe species as native or non-native, and only “invasive” in certain, very specific contexts. I like this approach because it gets at the fact that a particular plant can be highly aggressive in a degraded ecosystem in which it has just arrived, but play a perfectly normal, beneficial role in another context.

Some of the plants and creatures we describe as invasive in certain parts of the United States are actually endangered in their home ranges, which may be under threat from sea level rise, unpredictable climate fluctuations, or more direct human impacts like urban development or agriculture. Should we deny these species a niche in a new place when the place they called home has become untenable?

I think the question deserves another look, rather than a knee jerk “no” response. That knee jerk “no” is something I do sometimes encounter when I talk with scientists about these issues. There seems to be a lot of concern around loosening the binary between native and non-native and saying “maybe some non-native plants are ok”. Some seem to feel that thinking this way sends us off down a slippery slope that will lead the devaluing of historic ecosystems, making restoration even more difficult than it already is. My views on this are still evolving, but taking into account the range of perspectives I’ve encountered over the years, I tend to fall on the side of life. The toxic and/or resource intensive methods used to eradicate invasive plants, at least in urban spaces where greenery is often scare, could better be spent in other ways. Especially given the fact that these plants, whether native or not, are still providing basic, valuable ecosystem services like soil stabilization and creation, air quality improvement, habitat for non-human animals, and even health benefits (mental and physical!) for us humans.

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The Next Epoch Seed Library at William Paterson University as part of the exhibition Living Together: Nurturing Nature in the Built Environment. Photo credit Anne Percoco

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The Next Epoch Seed Library at William Paterson University as part of the exhibition Living Together: Nurturing Nature in the Built Environment. Photo credit Anne Percoco

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The Next Epoch Seed Library at William Paterson University as part of the exhibition Living Together: Nurturing Nature in the Built Environment. Photo credit Anne Percoco

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Anne Percoco gathering seeds for NESL in a traffic median on Grand Concourse in the Bronx. Photo credit Ellie Irons

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Screen shot of the NESL website

I was really charmed by your Next Epoch Seed Library and the way it gives nobility to weeds. Could you tell us what you’re trying to achieve with this work?
How big is the library? Do you accept plants from outside NYC?

The Next Epoch Seed Library (NESL) is one of my newest projects, initiated about a year ago with my collaborator, Anne Percoco, and a range of other artists who have contributed seeds and other ephemera. NESL focuses on collecting, storing and sharing seeds from plants that tend to live in close association with dense human populations or in areas heavily impacted by human activity.

Growing where others can’t or won’t, the species held in our seed library are those best adapted to live in the long shadow humans throw on the landscape. They supply important ecosystem services to humans and nonhumans alike, improving habitat in areas where legacy ecosystems have been disrupted through development and industry. Too often the plants living in these environments are the very plants cities and private landowners pour resources and herbicides into eradicating, “cleaning up” a “messy” life form in favor of the neat and the dead. Recasting these weedy species as companion plants for Anthropocene age, we use NESL as a vehicle for softening the edges of limiting binaries like native/non-native and nature/culture.

Through presentations, workshops, seed-swaps and exhibitions, we encourage viewers and participants to engage with their local habitat and reflect on their own role in the adaptation and success of these plants.

We’re still working out our policies around spreading species that are not yet introduced to a particular location. So far we’ve collected and exchanged only locally, although we do have an open invitation for interested parties to send seeds to us from anywhere. Personally I think I would only be comfortable offering those seeds back out to a community living in an ecosystem where the seeds in question are already naturalized. Certainly we’ll hold any species of seed in our library, but certain species might go in a reserve section temporarily, or only be offered back to people in certain regions. The project is very site-specific, in that we make a special, hyper-local collection of seeds for each location where the project is displayed. We need to do a thorough tally, but at the moment I think we have at least fifty species represented in the library, for a total of maybe 5,000 seeds, although that is always in flux as visitors take out and deposit seeds.

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Stills from Flight Lines (Butterflies, Bank of the East River, Gothic, Colorado, 6/23/15, 10:50 am), 2015, created during an residency at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (with Dan Phiffer)

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Screen shot of Flight Lines as commissioned by turbulence.org, Ellie Irons and Dan Phiffer, 2015

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Screen shot of Flight Lines as commissioned by turbulence.org, Ellie Irons and Dan Phiffer, 2015

Together with Dan Phiffer, you developed Flight Lines, a computer vision project that monitors the sky ecology of the Anthropocene. What have you learnt from these observations?
Where are the cameras located? Why did you chose these locations rather than others?

Flight Lines has taught us that there is a lot be learned about the ecology of the spot you are standing in by looking at the patterns in the sky above. It started when I was lying on my back in my parents’ yard in Northern California, watching dragonflies wheel overhead. They were making these amazing looping lines, and I starting trying to sketch their curves and arcs. I wasn’t satisfied, so took a quick video, then played the video back on my computer, tracing the movement of a single dragonfly frame by frame. I loved the line that emerged, but it was a tedious process. Dan saw me doing it, and realized that some automation might be in line. Soon he’d come up with a Processing script that allowed us to feed video in and get out a frame by frame drawing of what the camera saw passing through the frame.

Since then we’ve deployed Flight Lines in a variety of settings, from the abundant skies of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Colorado to the rooftops of Brooklyn. The “sky signature” of each location is unique, reflecting the activity on the ground. Highly urbanized landscapes are full of lines made by machines piloted by humans, of bit of drifting trash, and of synanthropes like starlings and pigeons. They can be very striking to look at, but are generally more geometric and ordered, and less abundant (although the pigeon fanciers of Brooklyn tip the scales in terms of abundance at certain hours). Landscapes less heavily dominated by human activity often have a higher diversity of lines and shapes, more of them organic. In very remote places at certain times (like the Rockies in early summer) our algorithm couldn’t cope with the abundance of flying creatures- after five minutes the whole screen turned to gray, so Dan developed a new version that cycles through the spectrum and can convey that level of abundance more effectively.

Our newest iteration of the project is a light-weight, raspberry-pi based version that lives on the roofs of New York City and feeds footage into a website commissioned by turbulence.org. This project, which is also part of Jamaica Flux currently, allows us to crowdsource the processing of our footage. Visitors to the site watch a chunk of sky for ten minutes, generating a series of still frames that give us a sense of what transpired in a particular chunk of time. Currently we have cameras in Central Park at the Arsenal Gallery in Manhattan, at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning in Jamaica Queens, and on the roof of Flux Factory in Queens, although we need to do some maintenance on them! Our camera locations are chosen by where we can get a good view of the sky and (if possible!) an internet connection. We’re interested in just about any chunk of sky we can get our camera pointed at!

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The Sanctuary for Weedy Species in progress, December 2015, Photo credit Dyani Sabin

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The Sanctuary for Weedy Species, 2015, part of Rail Curatorial’s Social Ecologies exhibition in Industry City, curated by Greg Lindquist. Photo credit Ellie Irons

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The Sanctuary for Weedy Species, 2015, part of Rail Curatorial’s Social Ecologies exhibition in Industry City, curated by Greg Lindquist. Photo credit Ellie Irons

A German botanist once told me that there was more biodiversity in his city than in the surrounding countryside. Mostly because rural environment is more controlled by agriculture, use of pesticides, etc. whereas in cities, we don’t really pay much attention to what grows and what doesn’t. Is this something you’ve observed in New York as well?

Interesting concept! I’ve heard something along those lines as well. Theoretical ecologist Sasha Wright is someone I’ve worked with on urban ecology issues, and she described to me how combinations of introduced and native species living together in cities can actually produce higher levels of biodiversity than existed before species introductions. She did acknowledge that these more diverse assemblages of species might be repeated more frequently across the world, which gets at the trend of global homogenization. But biodiverse areas, as I understand it, are much more resilient to difficult conditions than less diverse ones, so given the current challenges, especially for urban dwelling species, it seems that having more types of species is desirable, and since they are already here, we might as well work with what we’ve got.

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Herbarium of the Feral Landscape Lobby Brooklyn, NY (FLL)

Reading about your work, i realised that the main strengths of the plants you are studying is their resilience, the way they overcome difficult situations and are able to adapt to various environments. Which of course made me think of the ecological crises we are facing. So what could we, humans, learn from observing these plants?

I think I got at some of this in my answers above, but I do have a little more to say. I certainly admire the resilience of weeds, and their ability to thrive even when we ignore or actively attack them. In a poetic sense, they can be a stand in for many kinds of overlooked and under-appreciated life forms, spaces and places. But I’m not sure that metaphor needs to be extended to encompass humans- it already fits us perfectly! We are also weedy (if you like term, invasive) organisms. Just like the weedy plant species of the world, we are able to disperse widely, live in dense populations, and dominate the landscape at the expense of other species. I guess one metaphor I might like to extend is the one of context: not all humans are equally responsible for the ecological crises we find ourselves in; just like its dangerous to universalize and call all green, spontaneously growing organisms weedy invaders, it’s problematic not to address context, history, and social forces when assigning blame and providing care in the face of the climate crises.

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Feral Typologies. Triangular corner lot: Broadway at Dekalb Ave., August 2015 and November 2015

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Sandwiched lot: 1291 Dekalb Avenue, May 2015 and August 2015

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Feral Typologies. Corner lot: Suydam St. and Central Avenue, May 2015 and July 2015

What could we do with the wild spaces that still exist in urban environments? I think we all agree they shouldn’t be left in the hands of real estate speculators. So should we let them grow wild and in peace? Turn them into community gardens? Or something in between?

All of the above! I think its great for communities to invest in a piece of land and garden it. In this context my beloved weedy species might get pulled out early in the season (and hopefully eaten- so many are edible!) to make way for cultivated crops. But I would love to think there is also room for wild, unplanned landscapes to exist in the midst of the city. I have a little (as yet largely unrealized) project called the Feral Landscape Lobby that advocates for the existence of wild spaces in the city. The logic behind this is that many cities, certainly my corner of Brooklyn, don’t have the resources to manage and maintain large amounts of constructed greenspace. As stated on the project website, the FLL is involved in “Recasting vacant city lots and other undesigned open land as transitory zones for rewilding, emphasizing that these spaces are already functioning ecologically. If properly valued, preserved and stewarded, these ubiquitous “informal greenspaces” can provide a refuge and foothold for nonhuman life while also benefiting local human populations, both ecologically and culturally.” The ultimate goal of the FLL is to create a permanent wild urban park, but for now it mostly consists of temporary interventions, publications and workshops.

I’m trying to be a bit less Euro-centric. It’s difficult because i live in Europe so i tend to be in contact with European artists and organisations. So whose work would you recommend that my readers and i check out in America? Who are the artists doing inspiring works about or with nature?

Oh there are so many, functioning in so many different ways. On one end I love speculative institutions like The Center for Postnatural History, operating out of Pittsburg, or Karolina Sobecka’s in-progress Cloud Services. I also really relate to concrete interventions like Mary Mattingly’s upcoming Swale, and Juanli Carrion’s Outer Seed Shadow. And I so admire the work of artist-activists like Not An Alternative, with their The Natural History Museum, and Brandon Ballengée‘s art and research-based work with endangered amphibians. Finally, being originally from the west coast of the U.S. myself, I’ve long followed the work of California-based artists and organizations like Amy Balkin, Amy Franceschini, Andrea Zittel, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, and The Center for Land Use Interpretation.

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An Atlas of Endangered Surfaces, Photo Grid, 2015, digital print, in collaboration with Christopher Kennedy for Chance Ecologies

Any upcoming shows, projects, fields of research you could share with us?

Sure- there are some exciting things on the horizon. The Next Epoch Seed Library is programming an event called “On Weediness: Dance, Movement, Vegetative Life”. Scheduled for May 15th, the event will include a range of movement specialists and artists who use weediness and plant life to explore connections between people, place and nonhuman life (including Corinne Cappelletti and Eva Perrotta, Andrea Haenggi, Christopher Kennedy and Lucia Monge). The event is taking place as part of Emergent Ecologies, a sprawling show in an empty metal ceiling factory with more than eighty artists involved. I helped curate a handful of them, alongside lead curators Eben Kirksey and Lissette Olivares and a swarm of others! I also just opened a two person show that features my ongoing work with plant pigments. Titled Chroma Botanica, it pairs me with Linda Stillman, another artist who uses plant pigments in her work. That show will be up through June 14th at a very enjoyable location: the Arsenal Gallery in Central Park. We’ll be giving tours and demos of our pigment-making processes on May 17th and 24th. Otherwise I’m looking forward to getting out into some wild landscapes this summer, urban and otherwise!

Thanks Ellie!