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A Full Weekend of “Sensing Change”

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    Art by Zaria Forman.
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    Tenor Matthew Swanson.
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    The Anderson/Fader Guitar Duo.
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    A photo from the filming of Goodbye Ice, Goodbye Island.
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    Filmmaker and actress Drew Denny.
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    Artist Zaria Forman at work.
    ©François Lebeau Photographe(r)
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    World renown artist and engineer Natalie Jeremijenko eplains the workings of a Moth Cinema during a workshop entitled Urban Infrastructure for Non-Humans, in North Troy, NY, Thursday July 18, 2013. Jeremijenko's work explores the interface between society, the environment and technology. (John Carl D'Annibale / Times Union)
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April 03, 2014
Visionary environmental artist Natalie Jeremijenko kicked off a three-day program that explored the intersection of creativity and science through the talents of artists, musicians, writers and filmmakers. 

CHESTERTOWN, MD—Thanks to the collaborative work of Washington College professors and local advocates for the arts and the environment, April 3-6 offered Chestertown residents and visitors a long weekend packed with events that showcased creative responses to environmental challenges. Titled “Sensing Change,” the program  featured talks, poetry, documentary films, art exhibitions and concerts by acclaimed national and regional talents. 

The weekend kicked off Thursday, April 3, at 5 p.m. at Washington College with a presentation by visionary artist and technologist Natalie Jeremijenko, founder and director of the xDesign Environmental Health Clinic at New York University. She delivered the SANDBOX Spring Lecture in Decker Theatre on the topic, “On Cross Dressing Bicycles, Wrestling Rhinoceros Beetles, Flowering Buildings and Hula Hooping to address the pollinator crisis, or What is an Environmental Health Clinic and why would they pay me to ride my bike?” 

imageJeremijenko, an assistant professor of art at NYU, earned undergraduate degrees in biochemistry and physics and a Ph.D. in computer science and electrical engineering in her native Australia, and then completed further graduate studies in neuroscience and mechanical engineering in the U.S. This thorough immersion in science and engineering, combined with her wildly original conceptual art, makes her a perfect choice to speak as part of SANDBOX, which celebrates environmental projects at that intersection of art and science. 

Among Jeremijenko’s recent projects were robotic dogs that sniffed out environmental toxins, and a system of buoys and sensors that allowed people to text to the fish and monitor the water quality in a section of New York’s East River. Jeremijenko has said that she likes to create spectacles and “eco-mindshifts.” She has shown her work at the Whitney Biennial, the Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art and been praised as one of the world’s most influential designers (I.D. Magazine) and one of the most influential women in technology (Fast Company). The Environmental Health Lab she directs at N.Y.U. sends its “impatients” home with “prescriptions” for how to remedy environmental health threats in their homes and communities. 

The next day brought several events to downtown Chestertown as part of April’s First Friday, beginning at 5 p.m. with the opening of a new exhibition at the Carla Massoni Gallery, 203 High Street, and an open house at the new SANDBOX studio, 107 S. Cross Street. Music professor Jonathan McCollum treated SANDBOX guests to a serene concert on the Japanese shakuhachi, a traditional end-blown flute.

The environmentally focused artists featured in the exhibition, Timeless Rhythms: Sensing Change, include John Ruppert, the first SANDBOX Distinguished Visitor; painter Greg Mort, founder of the Art of Stewardship Project; and the three women involved in the Ice to Island Project and the documentary Goodbye Ice, Goodbye Island — filmmaker Drew Denny and artists Zaria Forman and Lisa Lebofsky. Also on display is work by Grace Mitchell, Heidi Fowler, Deborah Weiss and Leigh Wen.

That evening at 7:30 in the Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theater, 210 High Street, The Chester River Association and Sunrise Solar Inc. presented the moving documentary Chasing Ice, which chronicles National Geographic photographer James Balog’s heroic multi-year project that captured time-lapse photography of the changing Arctic landscape. 

Saturday, April 5, the action continued at the Garfield Center from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. with an artists’ panel, a reading by poet Meredith Davies Hadaway, a high-tech music premier, and a sneak preview of Goodbye Ice, Goodbye Island. John Seidel, director of Washington College’s Center for Environment & Society, and SANDBOX director Alex Castro will moderate the discussion as artists featured in the Massoni Gallery exhibition talk about the interplay of science, art and creativity in their careers.

Meredith Hadaway is a poet who lives and writes on the Chester River. She has published two volumes of her poetry, The River is a Reason and Fishing Secrets of the Dead, and a third, At the Narrows, is scheduled for publication this summer. She currently serves as the writer in residence at the Rose O’Neill Literary House and will participate this summer in the first Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers’ Conference.

Following the poetry, the chair of the Washington College Music Department, Ken Schweitzer and computer science professor Shaun Ramsey premiered original compositions they created in response to the John Ruppert’s photograph, “Icelandic Sea Wall.” 

The afternoon session ended with filmmaker Drew Denny presenting excerpts from Goodbye Ice, Goodbye Island. Still in the editing phase, the film documents how two cultures—one in the sinking Maldive Islands and the other in shrinking Greenland—are preparing to see their landscapes and way of life disappear because of rising temperatures and water levels. (Denny is known for her award-winning first feature film, The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had with My Pants On.

The themed weekend of arts came to a close Sunday afternoon back at Washington College with a multi-media concert titled “Beyond the Line of Blue” and inspired by American folk songs, poetry and art. Part of the Premier Artists series of the Washington College Concert Series, the concert featured tenor Christopher Swanson, the Anderson/Fader Guitar Duo and composer/guitarist Damon Ferrante, along with films and video projections by Alessandro Bonini. Weaving themes of water, surrealism, the passage of time and the unconscious, the program included the composition “Beyond the Line of Blue: An Operatic Monodrama with Video Projections,” based on the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman; “American Folk Songs with Video Projections; “The Footbridge: A Guitar Duo,” inspired by the sculpture of Alexander Calder; and “Divinità Minori: Solo Guitar Pieces with Video Projections,” inspired by the contemporary paintings of Christopher Engel. 

Art gallery owner Carla Massoni spearheaded the creation of the themed weekend when she became aware of several independently organized events that already centered on the intersection where environmental science and art meet. A tireless advocate for cross-promoting arts and cultural events in the area to build awareness and audiences, Massoni found ready partners in Washington College’s SANDBOX initiative, Music Department and Center for Environment & Society, along with the Chester River Association, the Kent County Arts Council and others.

The title of the weekend-long program is inspired by a SANDBOX lecture given at the College last October by Jody Roberts, director of the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. That lecture, “Sensing Change: How Art and Science Work to Communicate Environmental Change,” underscored how artists help the public understand environmental threats by making them more visual and personal. “It’s the artists and scientists who are often the first in society to discover the effects of environmental shifts and threats,” says Massoni. “We want to listen and learn from what these creative minds have to say, especially about the issues being raised by climate change.”

 

“Sensing Change” at a Glance:

 

Thursday, April 3

5 p.m. – Talk by Natalie Jeremijenko

Decker Theatre, Gibson Center for the Arts

Washington College, 300 Washington Avenue

 

Friday, April 4

5 to 7:30 p.m. – Opening of Timeless Rhythms at Massoni Gallery

203 High Street

 

5 to 7:30 p.m. – Open House at SANDBOX Studio

107 Cross Street

 

7:30 p.m. – Film screening, Chasing Ice

Garfield Center, 210 High Street

 

Saturday, April 5

11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. – “Sensing Change” Dialogue

Garfield Center, 210 High Street

Artists panel moderated by Alex Castro and John Seidel; Poetry reading by Meredith Davies Hadaway; Premier of “Icelandic Sea Wall” by WC music professor Ken Schweitzer and students; Preview of documentary Goodbye Ice, Goodbye Island.

 

Sunday, April 6

2:30 p.m. – Multi-media Concert, “Beyond the Line of Blue”

Decker Theatre, Gibson Center for the Arts

Washington College, 300 Washington Avenue

 

Below, Greenland by Zaria Forman.

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Last modified on Apr. 7th at 10:38am by Kay MacIntosh.