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
Commissioned by St. Louis Science Center. for “Grow“, a new pavilion and permanent agriculture exhibition at SLSC.
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.
GROW pavilion completed at St. Louis Science Center
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.
Visit us @ www.SubHerbanRoots.com
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
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.
Matter/Antimatter: A Time Based Work
Materials: plastics, red worms, shredded documents and coffee grounds.
A constructed ecosystem which facilitates the transformation of office waste (shredded office paper and coffee grounds) into living dirt. The resulting high grade fertilizer is then used to enrich the soil of a tabletop garden designed as a living salad bar for employees.
Documentation from installation at George Mason University School of Art Gallery and faculty staff lounge terrace.
“Agri-Art: The Death of Agri-Culture or Rise of Cooperatives”. Mark Cooley. From Green Acres: Artists Farming Fields, Greenhouses and Abandoned Lots
In Search of Zea Mays was created for the corn maze at Airlie Center in Warrenton VA, home of the Local Food Project (formerly directed by Pablo Elliot). A corn maze was created with the help of heirloom non-gmo corn seed, a tractor and gps system – and let’s not forget cooperative weather and lots of waiting. Within the maze, dead-end pathways invited maze-goers to rest and reflect on the history of industrial agriculture through a comfy strawbale seat and text / image investigations into the modern food system’s most prized plant – corn. The experience culminates in the “Cornference” room located in the center of the maze (& equipped with office furniture). The Cornference room hosted discussions among maze participants, meetings for members of The Local Food Project and at least one birthday bash. In Search of Zea Mays invited participants to explore our corn-based industrial food system by simultaneously superimposing the navigation of real space, data, and ideas in the familiar and freindly (if-not frustrating) form of the corn maze.
The Project was also displayed at the Green Festival in Washington DC as part of Airlie’s Local Food Project.
A Project by Mark Cooley in collaboration with farmer and local food advocate Pablo Elliot.