A film by Mark Cooley & Derek Ellis
Update June 2018: The Rare Forest Project has lost its proposed site and is currently exploring alternatives in Central Maine.
The benefits of biodiversity, the variety of life found in the environment, are well known. The greater the diversity of species of plants and animals in an area, the more likely it is to be a healthy ecosystem that can better withstand and recover from threats. And the threats are plenty; Because declining biodiversity touches on some of our most pressing challenges from global food security to mass extinctions and climate change, many efforts are being made to save and restore biodiversity worldwide.
Maine is known for its vast wilderness, but Maine has not escaped the effects of pollution, habitat loss, deforestation, over-harvesting, disease, climate change and other threats that plague ecosystems the world over. As a result of these factors and others, many of Maine’s native plant and animal species common only a century ago are now either rare or have been entirely eradicated from the state. While many people may think of the caribou, eastern cougar, the gray wolf, or the humpback whale when regarding extirpated and endangered species of Maine, fewer people think of plant life that has met a similar fate. And though diversity of plant life is fundamental to supporting diversity of animal life, The Maine Endangered Species Act applies only to animals – plants are not included and do not afford the protections set out by the legislation.
The Podooc Rare Forest Project is an experiment in creating a living museum and seed library of Maine’s rare, endangered and extirpated native plant species. Over the coming years, the project is to be distributed along various sites throughout Lake George Regional Park making use of both existing and reclaimed habitats. As a living museum, the project will provide visitors an exhibition of a curated selection of Maine’s rare and extirpated plant species. As a seed bank, the project looks to the future in hopes of providing seed and stock plants for further efforts toward recapturing lost plant diversity of Maine’s forests.
Project by Mark Cooley & Derek Ellis
Dust To Dust: For Ozymandias
Design: Mark Cooley
Fabricated with local salvaged cedar by Scott Wunder @ Wunderwoods, St. Louis.
Nature is the most gifted sculptor. But perhaps the core of nature’s art is not found in its forms, but rather in the beauty of its processes. Among Nature’s basic processes is the nutrient cycle, a bland term that conceals the profound poetic reality of what it describes – the creation of life from death through the living medium we commonly call “dirt”. This process takes on a special relevance in a contradictory society, which devotes more landfill space to compostable organic materials than it does to all other sources of “waste” – all while struggling with a nationwide soil depletion crisis. Treating organic materials, from newspapers to food scraps, as “waste” to be thrown in landfills rather than composted and returned to the earth, linearizes nature’s ingenious nutrient cycle, thereby threatening its miraculous built-in system for reproducing itself seemingly infinitely, and in infinite diversity, from finite materials and conditions.
This vermiculture system provides a framework for nurturing and viewing a fundamental and necessary work of nature, the creation of living dirt – the medium through which death becomes life. This vermiculture system was designed to consume the organic material byproducts of the St. Louis Science Center. Shredded office paper, landscape clippings, and food scraps generated at on the grounds are composted and, through a symbiotic relationship of earthworms, bacteria, and fungi, are converted into rich compost to be used as fertilizer for SLSC’s grounds. Potential waste converted into living dirt is the completion of a work of Nature’s art with the help of humans who wish to aid and visualize this beautiful process.
For thousands of years, artists have been celebrated for their ability to transform raw materials into precious works, and in the process make visible what is often unseen, forgotten, or ignored. This work follows this traditional formula, but engages the goals and materials relevant to the current age – an age when our collective future depends on the redefinition of our relationship to the world by working with nature rather than against it.
SoA Green Studio website
2010 – Present
Located on the grounds of the George Mason University’s Art and Design Campus, SoA Green Studio offers students a living studio in which to creatively explore the interdependence of biological and cultural systems. The Green Studio exists, as any working art studio does, in constant flux and develops organically through the relationship artists form with the developing ecology of the site.
The concept of an externalized art studio challenges conventional approaches to landscapes as master-planned perpetually finished products. The Green Studio also challenges the notion of the art studio as a place where artists retreat from the world, while repositioning the artist within the contingencies of a living space with its art materials embedded in a functional ecosystem. The goal of work in the Green Studio is not to create in spite of the world, but rather in relation to it. In this sense, traditional art and design concerns of creating abstract aesthetic relationships (whether on the canvas or in the landscape) are reshaped to include social and ecological relationships.
Finally, The Green Studio is not contained in any one physical space. It exists as conceptual space for exploring the role of art and design in building meaningful, creative, critical, and supportive relationships between people and the earth’s life support systems. The Green Studio can materialize anywhere and anytime an artistic act forms a conscious relationship with an ecological process, and renders the opposing concepts of “nature” and “culture” as inadequate terms for creating a sustainable future.
Wanted. a video installation by beth hall & mark cooley
The language of the other is ideally suited for exploitative entities bent on political and economic self-interest. Perhaps the age-old political strategy of divide and conquer is given special traction in a selfie-oriented culture marked by its participants’ relentless ambition to assert oneself above others for a daily dose of 15 minutes of fame – measured by numbers of thumbs-up on an otherwise generic template of existence. Paradoxically, this obsession with “I” coexists with a loyal subjugation to the divine commands of branding, where inner checks and balances are handed over to the cult of brand identity. Are you a MSNBC person or are you a FOX person? Reactionary lines are carved deeper and choosing sides between regurgitated oppositional narratives seems paramount. The sides are clear. They are quickly learned by surfing your friends’ face book pages. They are black and white. They are simple. They are nonnegotiable. They are protected and nurtured by the feared other, onto which we project our worst nightmares, our secret desires, and from which we claim our virtuousness. Gradations of being – the potentiality of a complex self – is flattened and compartmentalized, the fullness of a human being condensed to a demographic, an avatar, a profile, a brand, a party. There is a war on difference even as arbitrary differences are created, made significant and recruited for war against the other. Homogenizing mythologies are made brutally real, simply by acting as if they are. They are constructs, but nonetheless, they are fully realized constructs and pointing to their arbitrariness or stating that we are in a “post-“ anything does not fill the trenches or level the mountains made by the absurd languages we’ve used to distinguish our selves from others, to place ourselves above others. We’ve expanded our vocabularies in a search of freedom, only to find that each new generation’s language of liberation so often becomes a cage for the next as it hardens, becomes institutionalized and resistant to embrace emerging subjectivities. As long-held and solidified definitions of identity expand and language evolves alongside our emerging selves, pronouns are revealed as mere assumptions encoding subjects to reconstruct the prisons, guards, and inmates of by-gone generations. And yet, even in this liberation of self, there remains the sacrosanct “I” and “you”, “us” and “them”. Is there a way we can linger in the space between spaces, where walls might soon be erected? Is there a way to hack the very language in which the (re)creation of “us” depends on the (re)creation of “them”?
Wanted is a looping video installation and meditation on the flawed pronouns “I” and “you”, which on a social scale are often violently expressed as “us” and “them”. The title evokes a double meaning, eluding to both the negative use of “wanted” in a criminal sense and “wanted” as an expression of the human need for belonging, for love, which so often expresses itself as a merging of “you” and “I”.
SubHerban Roots, is a community-based family art project & business established in 2013 that offers homegrown homemade herbal remedies and home-scale permaculture design services to the Northern Virginia and Washington DC communities. SubHerban Roots is an art project, but it is not an ironic business-as-art performance. Rather, our work is a sincere art-of-everyday-life pro-formance. Through this pro-formance, we hope to provide for our family and help others take agency in regard to their personal health and the health of the land on which we all depend.
SubHerban Roots is a family collective project by
Beth Hall, Mark and Celia Cooley
By itself, a brand attached to a product is worth nothing. If brands matter, it is because it is us – faithful consumers – who are branded. This is the job of marketers, who employ artists and designers, statisticians and even psychologists in the ongoing competition to gain the biggest chunk of the public’s “mindshare”. We may have been conditioned to think by years of advertising featuring sleekly designed hi-tech gadgets occupying large expanses of glossy white paper that new technologies are essentially clean technologies. However, there are a myriad of toxic chemicals found in electronics, chemicals that damage the health of workers, communities and the environment at an ever-increasing speed and severity as we try to satisfy our endless desire for the newest gadgets and the accelerating demands of consumer capitalism.
From the mines of the war torn and poverty stricken Democratic Republic of the Congo where destitute children dig coltan for use in consumer electronics, to a “clean room” of a semiconductor factory in the United States where workers suffer from exposure to neurotoxins (even while they wear clothing to protect the technology they make from contamination from human hair and skin), to sweatshops in China where workers assemble iPhones by hand behind locked gates, armed guards and razor wire, to India where the machines that have reached the end their all too brief lifespans are sent to be disassembled by children unaware of the deadly toxins they handle daily, the tremendous cost to human health and well-being could never be included in the price tag of even our most expensive hi-tech gadgets.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that waste from discarded electronics is growing two to three times the rate of any other source of waste. Only 15-20% of e-waste is recycled, and even if 100% were recycled it would only account for a small amount of the total waste produced before products ever reach consumers. When we consider that at least 70 barrels of waste are created upstream during resource extraction and production processes for every single barrel of consumer waste produced, we can begin to see the limitations of consumer recycling and the need to create alternatives to consumer-driven capitalist economics.
We live in a time when many people are so alienated from the natural world that the concept of “nature deficit disorder” has entered our vocabulary to describe the potential mental and physical health effects from much of our society’s profound alienation from the natural world. Simultaneously, we have desperately used our technology to create simulations – extraordinary lies about the natural world – which light up our screens with the opposing and equally disturbing images of pristine “natural” settings untouched by human hands or post-apocalyptic wastelands in which humans are still somehow able to survive despite the collapse of the earth’s life support systems. We have made it possible, through our technologies, to immerse ourselves in the image of the world we want to see. However, until we get out there and act in the real world, these visions will remain only shadows on the wall while the world outside continues to decline and taking us ignorantly with it.
Founded by Mark Cooley and Dr. Changwoo Ahn
2013 – Present
EcoScience+Art is an initiative and collaboration between the arts and sciences at George Mason University. It is our mission to bring together individuals working across the boundaries of ecosystem science, art, and design fields to share knowledge, expertise, and strategies for creatively engaging in the common pursuit of a sustainable future.
“Form Follows Function: Eco-Art and Its Place in the Sustainability Movement”, Sustainability: The Journal of Record
Book of Dangerous Ideas
“Earlier this year, American University released a two-year study uncovering the infamous Koch brother’s little black checkbook. The study validates the far-reaching influence that America’s richest, most powerful men have on the public, via non-profit institutes, foundations, and higher education. The study, conducted by AU’s Investigative Reporting workshop, shows the broad, widening reach of right-wing libertarian ideologues Charles and David Koch, and the $134 million dollars that has been used to influence politics and policy through the right-wing echo chamber. The largest of the Koch’s University donations went to George Mason University, which collected $16 million between 2007 – 2011 with Mason’s Institute of Humane Studies and Mercatus Center bringing in 14 million between them.
The Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) website states its mission as, “taking bold new steps to combat the dangerous ideas that threaten our freedom, our prosperity…” With Koch funded ideologues with PhDs talking about everything from eliminating environmental protections, social safety net programs and public schools, it’s startling to think of what “dangerous ideas” they might be talking about.
In the spirit of protecting our freedom at a public university to express ‘dangerous ideas’ please anonymously write your best ones in this book.”