In February 2015, I connected with a small group of anti-fracking activists opposing fossil fuel infrastructures causing global warming to explore whether we could leverage copyright law to prevent natural gas pipeline expansions. I created Blued Trees, a symphonic installation, and launched the overture in the path of the Algonquin pipeline. That expanded pipeline would pass 105 feet from the Indian Point nuclear facility in Peekskill, New York, which is thirty miles from New York City. The work is at the invitation and permission of landowners facing property condemnation by eminent domain under the legal rubric of “public good.” Each musical measure of the symphony is 1/3 linear mile, and one tree is one note, marked as sine waves on the trees. The overture measure was iterated in twelve international sites. The paint is a non-toxic casein slurry of ultramarine blue and buttermilk to encourage moss growth. October 4, 2015, was the first movement, following the overture, of what has become a full symphony of events in multiple sites; it took place in Utica, New York, in the path of another pipeline. There will be five movements. The legal defense process is underway. What follows are excerpts from my social media journaling.
The launch began at 9 a.m. June 21 and concluded with a measured performative walk between the painted trees, all of us singing the measure I had composed, about 3 p.m. The site is full of beautiful wildlife. It is hard to imagine the mindset of people who would destroy it to install a 42-foot “natural” gas pipeline, alongside a nuclear plant, so that a few fossil fuel executives can get even richer.
As I get closer to the possible launch of crowd funding for legal protection of the habitat Blued Trees inhabits, I feel great self-doubt. Am I acting as an elderly Joan of Arc? Is the excavation scheduled for October 1 inevitable? Would Blued Trees be another sapling falling in a forest scheduled for clear-cutting anyway? Is the immense effort futile? If so, what is the value of the effort? Is this the essence of art making or just folly? I understand that no one can answer these questions.
Friday, the Spectra corporation accelerated their drive to condemn private land to install the expanded natural gas pipelines, including the land where Blued Trees is installed.
The decision just came in from NYFA. I will have to separate recognizable “art” costs from the legal process for the crowdfunding campaigns. It’s a mental torque for me to argue that “pure art,” separate from justice, could most effectively take us to retooling how art, justice, economics, and urban planning might reorganize the way we relate to other natural systems and sustainable resilience.
I had been unsure whether the Blued Trees Overture with Greek chorus would work as a visual installation. Now I know it does because I just assembled all the painted trees images for mapping on www.gulftogulf.org. I'd been “composing” blind. I had a clue how Beethoven felt working deaf.
I'm spending most of my time on the computer. The physical inactivity makes me unhappy. But everyone seems excited and interested in participating and being helpful, which makes me happy. What is motivating everyone is the possibility that art has an answer to the fossil fuel global train wreck.
Events are moving very fast. I'm getting far more than my usual quota of invitations to talk, present, write, show: a big wave coming into shore and a bit dizzying. I just have to try to keep my balance, and remember the why.
Two days off from Blued Trees strategic planning for encaustic studio work was like an IV blood transfusion for someone going on spiritual life support.
Planning the First Movement in Utica while looking for lawyers to defend the project. Although we are leveraging copyright law, the issues around whether fossil fuel corporations are corrupting the legal definition of “public good,” by taking land with eminent domain, or destroying artwork, touches deeply on the First Amendment. The communities where pipeline locations are sited are often desperately poor, poorly educated and under-represented. The cheapest hotels in Utica, where we planned to stay for the Blued Trees first movement, have been the sites of drive-by shootings. I’m not really into Bled-upon Trees.
Yesterday, we got notice the pipelines have permission to imminently destroy the land. I’m legally and financially scrambling now. The “Social Ecologies” guest editorial contribution of the Rail will be an important publication for the long-term intentions of the project. The suspense of impending confrontations between the Davids of Blued Trees, and the fossil fuel Golem-Goliath may be nerve-wracking, but it’s also the dramatic heart of performing ecology. 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, I meet with a new lawyer.
Ecological artist Aviva Rahmani’s projects range from complete landscape restorations to museum venues that reference painting, sound, and photography. She is an affiliate at the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Plymouth, UK. She has exhibited and published internationally and has been the recipient of numerous grants including the 2009 Arts and Healing Network Award for work on water.