People are buzzing about ‘Bee the Change’

OISE is abuzz with our new bee installation.We completed it this last week, and we think the results are sweet!  As reported in an earlier post, we’ve been working to raise awareness about the plight of bees.  In Ontario, like other places around the world, we  depend on bee pollination to cultivate a third of our plant-based foods – without bees, our complex ecosystem and food systems would be radically changed for the worse. Our bee populations have been declining rapidly, more so than in other places.  This is being referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder; many believe the causes of CCD are habitat loss, climate change, neonicotinoids (a type of insecticide), Varroa mites, and Nosema (a fungal digestive disease). 

There are over 70 Ontario bees depicted in the installation, each been hand drawn by a member of the OISE community onto an adhesive material made from 100% recycled plastic. We interspersed these images with facts about bees and actions viewers can take to help counter CCD.  The work, like many of the others we have created, in positioned as part of the ‘Take the Stairs’ Campaign, a walking art gallery that encourages our community to take the stairs rather than elevators (saving energy and improving health and wellness of the walkers).  A few photos of the installation are below –  we think it looks ‘beeautiful’!

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‘Bee’ the Change!

With the start of a new academic year comes the beginning of a new Eco-art project at OISE, one of my favourite parts of the year. Last year we focused on birds (via the FLAP installation), so we thought it made sense to follow up with one on bees (so we’ll have the ‘birds and the bees’ in our walking art gallery!) The plight of bees is being well-covered in the general media these days – bee populations are declining rapidly, due in part to the use of new pesticides like neonicotinoids, loss of habitat,  and climate change. As bees are responsible for pollinating about 30% of our plant-based food crops, this puts our own food supply at risk – a good reminder that everything is connected. So our next art installation is creating a ‘hive’ of line drawings of Ontario bees, combined with text about their importance; this is helping my students to learn more about bees and the challenges they face. I have attached a few photos of some of the first drawings…check back here for photos of the full installation in April!

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Creating Eco-Friendly Sculptural Books

While I’ve been busy with collaborative eco-art installations with my students this winter, summer always gives me a little more time to work on my personal artworks.  I’ve been experimenting with sculptural book-making in recent years – I love the combination of text and image, and the surprise of taking a traditionally flat object and making it come alive in three dimensions.  So how do you make this technique more eco-friendly?  Working with paper is a first step as it is easily biodegradable – that’s a natural when it comes to book-making.  But I’ve also been drawing inspiration from a variety of sources, looking for ways to incorporate natural or found objects into my bookworks.  I love the Spirit Books of Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord (http://www.susangaylord.com/the-spirit-books.html), who uses branches, grapevine and dried berries in this evocative book series.  Mary Ellen Campbell’s books also incorporate a range of natural materials, often layering one on top of the other for a beautiful effect (find examples of her work on Pinterest.)  Basi Irland takes a very different approach, freezing water and seeds into book forms that become part of a community performance as they float downstream (http://www.basiairland.com).  If you’re looking for exemplars of how to re-use found objects and turn them into books, look no further than Terry Taylor’s EcoBooks: Inventive Projects from the Recycling Bin.  Once you’ve read this book, you’ll be excited to try this yourself – you’ll be seeing possible books in everything you discard!

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For the Birds: Raising Awareness about FLAP

We finished our FLAP 2.0 eco-art installation just in time for World Migratory Bird Day on May 10th!  The work focuses on the plight of migratory birds in urban environments by depicting dozens of Ontario birds taking flight, using artistic means to raise awareness about FLAP – the Fatal Light Awareness Program.  Representing the millions of birds killed annually in collisions with buildings, this artwork is an aesthetic form of eco-justice education, encouraging viewers to consider the needs of all living things in the creation of more sustainable ways of living.  Each bird was drawn or painted by a member of the OISE community, then scanned and printed onto an adhesive material made from 100% recycled plastic. This art installation is part of the ‘Take the Stairs’ Campaign, forming part of the walking art gallery that encourages the OISE community to take the stairs, rather than elevators (conserving energy and improving health and wellness of the walkers). To see some of the detailed images from this installation, visit my February post.  To find out more about FLAP, go to:  http://www.flap.org/  and  WM Bird Day at:  http://www.worldmigratorybirdday.org/   What creative act could you do ‘for the birds’?

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Flapping Again!

We’re flapping again!  A few years ago at OISE we did an eco-art project to raise awareness about the plight of migratory birds in urban environments as part of FLAP  – the Fatal Light Awareness Project.  At that time I worked with my students to create over 300 handmade relief prints that were distributed to OISE offices to encourage faculty and staff to turn off their lights and close their blinds at night to reduce bird collisions with their windows.  We had such a positive response to these prints that we’re working on FLAP 2.0 – an art installation to raise awareness for the rest of the institution.  Working with our students, we’re in the process of making over a hundred watercolours of birds indigenous to south-western Ontario.  These bird artworks are being scanned and printed onto a type of plastic/paper with an adhesive backing (made from 100% recycled plastic!), and then will be cut out to make life-sized bird stickers.  They will be grouped into a huge flock in our walking art gallery (in the main stairwell), hopefully causing a FLAP when they are unveiled!  Here are a few images that have been created so far…photos of full installation will be posted on my website early next summer.

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Working with Willow

I had a Toronto artist, Morgan Zigler, do a workshop for my teacher candidates on working with willow in the spring; we had a great time! It’s an easily-renewable, accessible, (often free) natural material to work with, making it just about as sustainable as it gets. We had a lot of fun learning the basics of working with willow, and making a few sculptures for the OISE Learning Garden – a few photos of my students at work are below. Morgan has done a lot of this type of work at Evergreen BrickWorks, modelling how to use hands-on, experiential learning very effectively with youth; he has also done some great installations with using living willow in schoolyards.  You can check out his website at:

http://foolishnature.org/homely/environmental/wood/wood.html

If you want to really take this to the zenith with your students, check out the work of Patrick Dougherty; he uses willow and other types of branches to create the most amazing natural architectural works!   His website is beautiful in its own right, and contains lots of photos of his work:  http://www.stickwork.net/  Guaranteed to get any learner excited about the possibilities of working with willow!

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Where Do Eco-Art Ideas Come From?

At the start of another new year at OISE, we are in planning mode to create a few new eco-artworks with our students.  These projects have been well-received, and are successfully drawing attention to creating a culture of sustainability in our institution.  We’ve been very lucky to have support from our CAO in this as she provides financial support to make them happen…it would be hard to make projects happen with no budget.  But once the funding is in place, I’m often asked ‘where do you start’?  How do you find the spark of inspiration that begins the creative process?  I draw on a variety of sources for this – sometimes it comes from campaigns or organizations that are addressing an important environmental issue that we want to support.  In other instances it has been a way to raise awareness about an issue we know is of concern to our organization specifically (our FLAP project is an example).  Often it’s a technique or image from an existing artwork that inspires, triggering the reaction “I want to try that!” (This is a great way to push yourself to move beyond the art-making strategies you feel most comfortable with.)   And at times it has been a request from someone in the organization to help to address a specific concern (aesthetic or environmental.)  We’ve already got a project underway as an example of the latter; we were approached to provide new artwork for one of the busy meeting rooms in the building.  This provided an opportunity to improve a space in the building aesthetically, and another way to get across the message about sustainability. This has translated into a series of large-scale photos of our Learning Garden, and will allow the garden to have a permanent, year-round presence inside the building.  I’ll post photos of this installation here in the next few months as it is completed.

Using Digital Photos for Eco-Artmaking

Digital photography is a great technique to use for environmental art-making – while it’s not ‘no impact’ (is anything?), it is low impact.  For a small amount of electricity students can have so much fun taking photos and then modifying them in so many ways; it’s a great form of recycling!  I have been using the work of many of environmental photographer/artists in my classroom as starting points for eco-art lessons.  Canadian Ed Burtynsky is known internationally for his large-scale photos of human impact on the earth; if you haven’t seen his documentary Manufactured Landscapes, it is excellent viewing.  I haven’t seen his newest one, called Watermark, but reviews of it are also strong.  (More about his work at http://www.edwardburtynsky.com/ )  The work of American photographer Peter Menzel is often found in my classroom as well – his series Hungry World and Material World are fascinating portraits of families’ consumption around the world; not surprisingly there are great disparities depending on where they live.  I use his work to introduce eco-justice education and the power of art to raise awareness about inequity and its relationship to the environment.  (http://www.menzelphoto.com/books/hp.php )  And finally the work of American Chris Jordan (http://www.chrisjordan.com/gallery/rtn/#silent-spring ) is also useful to introduce how environmental statistics can have a greater impact when given visual form.   We’re experimenting with photography ourselves at OISE this summer by running a photography contest on our Learning garden – I’ll share the results in a future blog post.

Turning Over a New Leaf

How can you help your students turn over a new leaf when it comes to living more sustainably on the earth?  I asked my pre-service students to do just that this year, and not surprisingly they gave a range of responses, from recycling to upcycling, to doing more with less, to hatching new ideas.  This inspired their latest eco-art project, which has just been installed at OISE.  I introduced them to the field of eco-art in a workshop, and then together we created over a hundred clay leaves that capture their ideas in both text and image, which were glazed and fired.  Working with artist/student Angela Johnson, we created a large metal branch on which to hang the vibrant leaves.  As this work hangs in our stairwell as part of the Take the Stairs energy conservation campaign, we hope that Turning over a new Leaf will help others think about how they can take positive change towards sustainability in their lives and those of their students, one step at a time!

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