Culture Clash: Nature and Civilization Face Off in the Art of Michael Wang
By Patrick Rogers
The rooftop garden of the Swiss Institute Contemporary Art gallery in New York looks much like you'd expect of a newly renovated former bank building in lower Manhattan. Rows of simple aluminum planters line the small rectangular space, sprouting leafy greenery that frames views of the busy streets below.
Yet this ordinary-looking urban garden is actually a work of art with something to say about the troubled relationship between nature and human culture. Artist Michael Wang chose each of the four varieties of vegetation now growing on the institute's roof for a very particular reason: All of the plants are in trouble. One of the species, franklinia alatamaha, is classified by The International Union for Conservation of Nature as "EW," extinct in the wild.
"Extinct in the Wild," 2018, Swiss Institute installation, by Wang.Michael Wang and Foxy Production, New York
Wang sometimes describes these species as "homeless." They are nature's orphans—plants that wouldn't exist anymore if it weren't for the care of their human handlers. Ginkgo biloba, for instance, began dying off in the wild thousands of years ago in the mountains of central China, probably when human hunters wiped out whatever large animal had been spreading its seeds. Those same people, however, valued ginkgo trees so much they had already begun cultivating them, often planting them at temples and in cemeteries. "Today we know the ginkgo from cities almost all over the world," says Wang, "and wherever they are found, even trees that are centuries old, they are associated with human planting."
Wang's rooftop Extinct in the Wild installation is the latest in a series of projects that explore the impact of disruptive "global systems," such as trade, industrialization, colonization and climate change, on the natural world. "I wanted to trace the passage of these species from nature into culture," he said. In the process, he highlights the contradictions of the power we wield. We push flora and fauna to the brink of eradication only to put them on life support—sometimes for centuries. He asked, "How can you cause the extinction of a species in one context while also allowing its propagation beyond what would be purely natural in another context?"
Wang casts an almost microscopic gaze on this fraught relationship in another exhibition currently on view in Palermo, Italy. Carboniferous, a series of exquisitely detailed photographs, showcases samples of delicate fossilized ferns and tree bark discovered in coal deposits in Poland and the southern U.S. The ancient plants, now extinct, survive only as inert imprints in the toxic fuels that have powered commerce and industrialization.
"Carboniferous," 2018, by Wang.Michael Wang and Foxy Production, New York
In another part of the Palermo project, Drowned World, nature wreaks science fiction–style revenge on the industrial world. As visitors to the city's botanical garden climb a stainless-steel staircase, they peer over a high wall into an industrial site that was once the coal-gas plant powering the city's streetlamps. There, Wang has installed a forest of plants similar to the ones that grew around 300 million years ago, in the Carboniferous era, and eventually became coal and other fossil fuels. Thirty-foot araucarias trees, towering ferns, cycads and epiphytes flourish among rusted machinery and gas tanks.
"Drowned World," 2018, by Wang.Michael Wang
Wang wants to make visible again the lost forest that made the fossil-fueled modern world possible. "The imagery of industrialization has been dominated by inorganic materials, concrete or steel or glass, and I wanted to bring its organic origins to light," he said. At the same time, the artist, who takes meticulous care of the plants and animals he uses, imagines a world in which vegetation from hundreds of millions of years ago somehow restores the atmosphere that we have polluted with our daily lives and activities—including art itself.
An artist's impact on the planet is more than aesthetic. For his provocative and ongoing Carbon Copies series, Wang calculates the carbon footprints of works by well-known contemporary artists. First he measures, for example, the energy needed to mine the diamonds of Damien Hirst's 2007 skull-shaped sculpture For the Love of God or the emissions expended by all of the people who flew to the 2005 opening of Elmgreen & Dragset's iconic Prada Marfa installation in West Texas. Wang then makes small paper "stand-ins" of the art and uses the proceeds from their sale to buy carbon offsets that "erase" the original works from the atmosphere.
"Carbon Copies," 2012 — installation view, by Wang.Mark Woods
Wang, of course, is himself an active part of this complex relationship between the art world and the physical environment. "Personally, I most often find myself in the environmentalists' column and on the side of nature conservation," he said. "But in these artworks I'm trying to always find places where it's hard to know what side to be on."
Michael Wang's Extinct in the Wild is on view at Swiss Institute Contemporary Art in New York; Drowned World is on view at Manifesta 12 in Palermo, Italy, through Nov. 4.
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tiffany Means
Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.
The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.
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By Julia Vergin
It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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Climate models are predicting faster warming of the North Atlantic Ocean, which will shift the Gulf Stream. NASA
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By Jessica Corbett
As a United Nations agency released new climate projections showing that the world is on track in the next five years to hit or surpass a key limit of the Paris agreement, authors of a new study warned Thursday that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is nearing a level not seen in 15 million years.
<div id="1a097" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3be1f37aee62477983e577219c84d7a9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281182404116385792" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">https://t.co/3sNdmN8mCz New study covered by @guardiannews, we look at CO2 levels in the Late Pliocene (~3 million… https://t.co/xRhhLcpdJ5</div> — Tom Chalk (@Tom Chalk)<a href="https://twitter.com/ChalkyOceans/statuses/1281182404116385792">1594292663.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="23d44" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a800573625ce69a53bedfe537b572116"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281123005695959040" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Annual mean global temperature likely to be at least 1° C above pre-industrial levels in each of coming 5 years (20… https://t.co/WOBeEOhbCe</div> — World Meteorological Organization (@World Meteorological Organization)<a href="https://twitter.com/WMO/statuses/1281123005695959040">1594278501.0</a></blockquote></div>
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