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In Upstate New York, a Summer of Climate Change Art

Climate
Birds Watching. NRDC artist-in-residence Jenny Kendler

By Patrick Rogers

On 500 acres of woodland and rolling hills in New York's Hudson Valley sits the Storm King Art Center. This site of former farmland and gravel quarries is studded with monumental sculptures by Modernist giants like Alexander Calder and Mark di Suvero. In a sense, you could say the center's bucolic setting is itself a piece of work.


"One thing that we've always been engaged in since Storm King was founded in the 1960s is land conservation and environmental stewardship," said curator Nora Lawrence. "It's a little bit of untold history."

That environmental legacy continues this spring with Indicators: Artists on Climate Change. The exhibition explores climate change's climbing temperatures, rising sea levels, and cataclysmic weather through the personal perspectives of 17 contemporary artists. "We're really asking them to look at it from their own interest point," said Lawrence. "It's going to help people see things anew."

Surprises and provocations await throughout Storm King's sprawling campus. In Birds Watching, Chicago-based sculptor Jenny Kendler has reproduced nearly 100 eyes of local avian species that are now facing extinction due to climate change. Made of reflective aluminum, akin to what's used for traffic signs, the birds' eyes fix their audience in an accusatory stare.

"They're saying, 'What is your responsibility, essentially, for driving my entire species to extinction?'" asked Kendler, who is also the artist-in-residence at NRDC. Ironically, the birds are also objects of beauty, according to aesthetic codes that please the human gaze.

Permanent Field Observations.David Brooks

In 2013, artist David Brooks buried a tractor at Storm King as a kind of tribute to the museum's agricultural past. For "Indicators," he returns with Permanent Field Observations, a series of cast-bronze woodland vignettes that include rotted tree trunks and acorns perched on boulders. A map guides visitors to some of the small sculptures that are scattered around the grounds―but not all of them, illustrating the limits of scientific methodology.

Sometimes Lies Are Prettier.Tavares Strachan

Inside a museum building, meanwhile, blue neon spells out the words "Sometimes Lies Are Prettier." This elegant but loaded gesture by Tavares Strachan highlights the challenge of contemplating an ugly truth like climate change. Also indoors are Maya Lin's 59 Words for Snow and Before It Slips Away. Both works resemble 3D maps of Antarctica's disappearing ice.

59 Words for Snow.Maya Lin / Pace Gallery

On a recent afternoon, Mark Dion was on the phone discussing his "Indicators" piece when a small animal surfaced from the lake near where the artist was standing at Storm King. "Oh! That is so funny―there's a beaver in the lake," he exclaimed. Turns out it was muskrat, but Dion's moment of joy was real.

It also played into the sense of displacement he hopes to create with The Field Station of the Melancholy Marine Biologist. His lifelike rendition of an ocean scientist's outpost, crowded with books and instruments, is nowhere near the sea. "This is a kind of meditation on how even if we are pessimistic, we're still plugging away. We're still trying our best," said Dion.

Along the Lines of Displacement: A Tropical Food Forest.Mary Mattingly / Robert Mann Gallery

That sort of resiliency is a theme found in several of the works on display, including Along the Lines of Displacement: A Tropical Food Forest by Mary Mattingly, who is best known for her Swale project, a vegetable garden on a floating barge where members of the public harvest fruits and vegetables. At Storm King, Mattingly has transplanted palm and fig trees from Florida to the cooler northeastern climate in anticipation of warming temperatures. Although these subtropical trees will likely die in New York's current conditions, Mattingly describes her project as "a proposal for how this land could be functioning in the future."

Climate change is not just about loss and inevitability, she insists. "We need to be thinking about our security"—specifically, our food security—"and not just watching it happen," said Mattingly. "I want to instigate a conversation that I don't really hear around me."

Perhaps many such discussions will take place this summer, on a grassy hillside near the Hudson River.

Indicators: Artists on Climate Change is on view at the Storm King Art Center in Orange County, New York, from May 19 to November 11, 2018.

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.

SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0​

"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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