Beauty and Despair Collide in These Murals of the Great Lakes
By Clara Chaisson
With loons and trout alongside allegorical monsters, the fantastical murals at the center of artist Alexis Rockman's new exhibition don't just look like a dream sequence; they are a dream come true.
Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle emerged out of a 2013 phone call with Rockman's longtime friend and collaborator Dana Friis-Hansen, director of the Grand Rapids Art Museum, where the series will make its debut on Jan. 27 2018. "[Dana] asked me if I had any dream projects up my sleeve," Rockman said. "I looked at the map and thought of the Great Lakes."
Pioneers, 2017. Oil and acrylic on wood panel, 72 x 144 inches.Alexis Rockman and Sperone Westwater, New York
Though he was born and raised in New York City, Rockman said Lakes Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior appeal to him because they are both natural wonders and human-made disaster zones. These massive freshwater lakes—the world's largest by surface area—formed from glacial movement and melting during the Pleistocene. They now hold 20 percent of the Earth's freshwater and provide drinking water for 40 million people, but threats ranging from massive algal blooms and industrial pollution to rapidly warming temperatures and voracious invasive species now plague these vital resources. "It's a perfect cocktail of awe, despair, and melancholy," Rockman said.
Rockman tells the lakes' story through five large-scale paintings, each measuring 6 by 12 feet, beginning with the Pleistocene, exploring the present day, and imagining the future (which includes opportunities for recovery and preservation). The exhibit also features six large watercolors and 28 field drawings made from organic materials collected from Great Lakes sites.
Spheres of Influence, 2016. Oil and alkyd on wood panel, 72 x 144 inches. Collection of Jonathan O'Hara and Sheila Skaff.Alexis Rockman
The paintings abound with Rockman's unique style, which combines his passion for natural history and landscape painting with a dark, hallucinatory flair. He refers to this particular blend of influences as "natural-history psychedelia." Director Ang Lee was so taken with Rockman's approach that he asked the artist to create visual inspiration for his 2012 film Life of Pi.
For his latest work, using an itinerary developed by the Grand Rapids museum, Rockman set out on a tour of eight U.S. states and Canadian provinces in the Great Lakes region. Along with extensive reading, his studies included fishing trips, a circumnavigation of Lake Michigan, and meetings with museum directors and biologists. Rockman had previously painted the lakes in the 1980s, becoming familiar with many of their woes, such as their infamous zebra mussel infestation. But his latest research introduced him to new horror shows, like tiny spiny water fleas that gunk up fishing gear and botulism outbreaks that paralyze and kill birds. The Great Lakes "are under incredible pressure from so many things, it's just mind-boggling," said Rockman.
Watershed, 2015. Oil and alkyd on wood panel, 72 x 144 inches. Collection of Jonathan O'Hara and Sheila Skaff.Alexis Rockman
Each painting in the series is accompanied by a map key that that identifies the species and references at play. "As I have worked on this project for the past five years, the environmental issues facing the lakes have become even more critical," Rockman said. "My expedition in the region, observations of the area, and conversations with experts have helped me tell a story that is, I hope, a compelling call for action on behalf of this natural treasure."
Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle will be on view at the Grand Rapids Art Museum from Jan. 27 through April 29, 2018, before traveling to Chicago, Cleveland and Minneapolis.
Forces of Change, 2017. Oil and acrylic on wood panel, 72 x 144 inches. Collection of Jonathan O'Hara and Sheila Skaff.Alexis Rockman
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.