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Jesse Narens – Composition/Decomposition/Art

August 1, 2017

Jesse Narens with artworks in forest. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Portland artist Jesse Narens is most at home in nature.  Artworks with tree motifs, raindrops and layers of mark making reflect the forests and coastlines of the Pacific Northwest.  Collected and followed by a global audience, Narens’ work is both lucid and magical, with creatures that seem to emerge, disappear and re-emerge from an ethereal plane.  What draws one to the artist’s work is an individual preference, but there is no denying an ineffable quality of being transported to another world – sometimes primal, sometimes whimsical  – vaguely familiar, if not altogether forgotten.

It is easy to make comparisons to visionary art when one looks at the works of Narens, although the artist would eschew any hierarchy – spiritual or otherwise – between the artist and other living beings.  In the creative process, Narens becomes one with both subject and object and returns both artist and audience to their wild essence of being.  Narens’ work embodies a transitory moment that is the quintessence of life, death, and art.

TTDOG met with Jesse Narens earlier this year and began a dialogue with the artist in advance of their upcoming show Asleep in A Field, opening Friday 4 August in Portland.  Narens describes the artist’s career to date.

 

I started painting at the end of 2010 after my friend and artist Jesse Reno suggested trying out some alternative techniques.  Prior to that I had never painted before.  I focused on ceramics in high school, and dropped out of art college in less than a semester because I felt like they were creating artists, not letting people just be artists.  I have always done something creative with my time.

I do whatever I feel like doing, creatively, at any given time.  Painting and music are my go-tos , but every so often I get the urge to try something else.

 

Collaboration and a sense of community with other artists has always been important to Narens.  As a teenager, the artist created showcases for their own and other artists’ works.

 

The shows I was hosting when I was 15-20 were one night music and art shows at different venues around the Chicagoland area, made up of people from the midwest that I found online, back when Myspace was popular.  I showed my own work and played music at those events.

I’ve always enjoyed sharing the things I like with friends, so when I started playing music and making art it just made sense to try and be an event organizer or curator of some sort.

 

Collaboration extends as well to the audience where meaning-making becomes an adventure between artist, subject, object and audience.

 

My paintings, titles and music never really have specific meanings.  I am trying to create a feeling.  The feeling I get when I am in the woods or on the coast in the Pacific Northwest.  Where people see bear and wolves, I just see a generic animal form, usually.

Sometimes I choose words just for the way they sound or to further push the atmosphere in the painting.  It’s also important that all of the elements (music, words, painting, etc) are taken in together at the same time to get the full experience of my art.

 

Observing Narens’ recent body of work, one gets a sense of both forthrightness and mystery that allows the artist to give birth to and express the unutterable. Whether seemingly benign or ferocious, the creatures in Narens’ works seem to belong to a world that adults, living in contemporary society, are no longer able to see, let alone access and engage.  Returning to a clarity and confusion akin to that of childhood, Narens leads us back to our own natural connection to the wild that we have distanced ourselves from, over time.  To do this, Narens draws upon motifs of the natural world.

 

Looking back on pieces I can remember making in high school, most of them were tree related; people with branch arms, bark texture on my ceramic pieces…I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and I don’t remember experiencing much nature before the age of 20 when I moved to the Pacific Northwest.  The few experiences I did have before then were all very memorable, and while I might not have thought about it then, I recognize now that the feelings I have now when I am out in nature have always been the same.  It’s the only place where I feel I can just be.  It’s the only place that feels correct to me.  When I go back home I tend to spend a lot of time worrying about things that shouldn’t matter, but we have made them matter.  I paint the places and things that make me feel good.

I find my greatest joy in nature.

 

Jesse Narens with mask. Photo courtesy of the artist

 

As an intuitive artist, Narens’ artistic process mirrors the cycles of the natural world.  The artist composes and decomposes each piece over and over again.  Each layer, rather than adding armour and complexity, seems to strip away artifice and repression and restores freedom of vision.  There is no attempt to obscure what has come before and the history of mark making, evident in the pieces, is like a treasure map the artist has left behind, to lead the audience to a sense of uninhibited being.

 

I don’t have the final piece in mind before it’s done.  I just start painting, whether or not I have an idea, and the piece evolves as my mind processes what I’m seeing and thinking about at that time.  Pieces get to a point where they definitely look like they could be called finished, but something just doesn’t feel right to me.  I’ll paint over “finished” pieces again and again until they are done.  Even pieces that are done might someday become unfinished again.  If I have to sit with them for a long time, at some point, my mind might be in a different place than it was when a particular piece was finished, and I will no longer feel connected to it, so I paint over it.  When I sit down and examine why I do certain things, I feel like working this way is a lesson in letting go and embracing change.

 

 

I get stuck at some point in almost every piece.  Usually when they get to a finished looking point, but I don’t like it.  To move forward, I usually have to paint over the parts I like the most.  It frees up the piece to become something drastically different at that point.  It’s not always the easiest thing to do, but it’s almost always the answer.

 

Narens does not create artworks for archival purposes, and believes that decomposition is as valid as composition in the making of art.  For Narens, an artwork has a life that continues beyond the moment when the artist and the subject have transmuted the mystery of creation into form.  What happens beyond that moment is a part of the life cycle of the art and Narens delights in seeing, for instance, works weathered in nature or by time.  An ecosystem of its own, Narens’ art is in a constant state of flux and adaptation.

Art by Jesse Narens, placed in the wilderness, to be discovered by followers. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

I don’t like making products for the sake of having things to buy.  Sometimes I draw something and want it on a shirt for myself, so I get maybe 20 shirts made.  When I do make something like a shirt or a book, I only make a small number to keep the items special to whoever ends up getting one.  I try to make things on my own, or work with friends so I can keep the prices as low as possible.

 

Narens work is primarily self expression, yet the artist aims to allow their artwork to be a catalyst for a return to the wild.  Using social media, Narens showcases the natural world through the artist’s own adventures as much as showcasing their artworks, encouraging followers to get outdoors.  On occasion, Narens has left free artworks at natural sites as incentive.  Having experienced nature, followers may be encouraged to protect the wilds.  Yet, in the face of our society’s failure to protect ecosystems and natural preserves and our failure to act to avert the catastrophic impacts of climate change, Narens accepts the limits and responsibilities of one’s own place in the lifecycle of this living planet.

 

I’m alive, so I’ll live the best life I can, but I don’t have much hope for humans.

The earth will fix itself when we are gone, if we can’t learn to live with it.

Even though I feel this way, that doesn’t mean I’ve given up.  I’ll continue to try and inspire people to care about the planet, and to share and support the work of people who I think are doing a better job than I am, like E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Archangel Ancient Tree Archive.

 

While humankind may provide no solace for Narens, it is to the pockets of community, cultivated by the artist throughout life, that Narens turns.

 

I am currently going through a big transition in my life, so at the moment I am most grateful for the friends in my life that have been around since I was young.

 

 

“The Moon is Made of Chalk” by Jesse Narens. Photo courtesy of the artist

 

Like an old friend, Narens has returned to the artists’ roots, performing live music with art at the upcoming exhibition, Asleep in A Field.  For many of Narens’ fans, this will be the first opportunity to experience the artist’s music (performed under the name Ghost&Flower) with Narens’ artworks.

 

The last time I played music live was in 2011 and the last time I played music where my art was on display was probably 2008.

As with my visual art, my music is for me.  And with music, I am again chasing a feeling that I don’t get from anything else, and I can’t express it in words, but when I am making music I very quickly go somewhere else in my head.  I’ve recorded very little over the last 12 years of playing music live.  I make music the same way I paint.  It’s improvised, and I build layers through loops.  I use a prepared guitar instead of electronic instruments, and build most of my rhythmic parts with a contact mic to play the room.  Recording, even live, takes me out of the headspace that I am doing music for, so it’s no fun for me.

I went to a Bang On A Can marathon show when I was around 18 that had a big impact on my music.  The show was something like 12 hours of non stop experimental music, but at the beginning they encouraged you to come and go as you wanted because doing so meant that each person would have their own unique experience with what they heard.

 

Setting up for Asleep In A Field, a solo art show by Jesse Narens; music performance on opening night as Ghost&Flower. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

I’ve played so many great shows that I wish I had recordings of, but I know they would have gone different if it was being recorded.  I like knowing that everyone who has seen me play had a unique experience that no one else will ever know.

 

Asleep In A Field opens Friday, August 4th in Portland and runs through Tuesday, September 5th  at True Measure Gallery.  Jesse Narens will play live music under the name Ghost&Flower on opening night, at sunset.  For those interested in purchasing artworks but who cannot attend the exhibition, contact Jesse Narens (Jesse@Jessenarens.com) or True Measure Gallery.

 

 

Asleep in A Field – Jesse Narens’ Solo Show at True Measure Gallery. Music by Ghost&Flower. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Follow Jesse Narens:

 WEBSITE,

INSTAGRAM

 

Articles, Nature, Oneness

Making Every Day, Earth Day: A Sea of Plastic

June 8, 2016

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Today is World Ocean’s Day.  TTDOG launched this series of articles after thinking about the phrase  “Every Day Should Be Earth Day.”

How can we make every day, earth day?  To be certain, it involves changing behaviour and consumption patterns.  Changing our behaviour can seem overwhelming but it can be broken down into manageable pieces beginning with a single first step.  And so, TTDOG offers this series of articles on different aspects of our ecological crisis so that each of us can choose at least one aspect and even just one action to get started.  We will see the ripples expand.

But, first, all behavioural change begins with one discrete decision:  changing our values and committing to living in alignment with those values.

To do this, TTDOG has suggested working with the concept of Oneness.  Unless we are masochistic, really understanding our Oneness with the Earth will undoubtedly cause grief at the destruction we have created.  Our hope is that we can not only play witness to what is,  but make that first discrete decision that can lead us to make every choice one of mindful consumption and of contribution to the rebirth of our world.

Like everyone else, TTDOG is stepping out of our area of expertise and our comfort zone in taking this journey to address our current ecological crisis not only with practical personal action but by participating in a global paradigm shift of awareness and values.   We invite all readers to share their own insights and concerns.  In fact, please contact us if they would like to contribute articles, artwork and ideas toward working with Oneness and Making Every Day, Earth Day.

 

Forgotten Mythologies of the Sea

In many cultures and religions, the sea is controlled by a divinity that is both a benign giver of life and a wrathful destroyer of mankind.  How we are treated depends on how we treat the sea.

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The Sea Witch by Andrea Villari

As a metaphor for the collective unconscious, she is the vessel of our dreams and of our emotions.  Through her tides and storms, she is depicted as the vehicle for the souls heroic journey from ignorance to enlightenment.

She is a metaphor for Oneness itself.    In the words of the poet and Sufi mystic, Rumi:

You are not a drop in the ocean; You are the entire ocean in a drop

From the sea, humans emerged.  For the last 600 years, the human part of the story of the sea has largely been one of exploration, conquest and consumption.  Through our trance-like pursuit of  advancement, we have not only neglected our Mother Ocean, but we have poisoned her – and in the process, ourselves.

The impacts of our activities all bear reflection on World Oceans Day and include climate change, coral reef acidification, rising sea temperatures, sea level rise and species extinctions.  In this piece, however, we will consider one small part of our impact on marine systems:  plastic pollution.

 

A Sea of Plastic:

Some of the greatest advancements of the modern age has been in the field of material science. One of the most revolutionary materials to be developed is plastic. Strong, flexible, mouldable, and cheap, plastic has allowed us to venture into space, advance medical science with life-saving technologies, create warm shelters for ourselves and increase our productivity with computers, transportation and meals on the go. Yet, in our brash advancement, we failed to consider the lifecycle of what we were creating. Today, plastics from broken, outworn, depleted and unwanted goods is fill our landfills and are poisoning our marine ecosystems.

 

Attribution, Non Commercial

Artwork by Common Folk

 

Plastics have enabled advances in almost every area of modern life.  However, production of plastic requires large quantities of fossil fuels (which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions) and water (which contribute to water scarcity issues).  Extracting fossil fuels from oil sands, the ocean floor and from within the earth’s crust has caused oil spills, and pollution of marine and freshwater systems.  The cost of that disposable water bottle and mobile phone would be inconceivably high, were we to factor in the environmental impacts, for ourselves and future generations.

Every piece of plastic that has ever been created, since the 19th century, still exists somewhere on this planet, in some form.

According to IWMA, 86% of ocean debris is made up of plastic. Solar radiation breaks down larger pieces of plastic into micro particles that have been found on the ocean floor and which make our way into the food chain.  What that means, is that we are eating plastic and if these micro particles are are unable to be digested, they will become a foreign part of our bodies and will trigger our defence systems to begin an attack on our own bodies.

Ocean pollution by micro plastics comes not only from rubbish that makes its way into the sea; Products which we consume every day are made with micro plastics called microbeads. Microbeads are found in everything from facewash to cosmetics to toothpaste. These micro particles of plastic are washed down our drains and find their way into the watercourses, remaining in the environment for at least 50 years.

Micro plastics impact on humans not only through the food chain but directly through the chemicals contained in them. Hormone disruption, obesity, and infertility are just some of the impacts that have been linked with plastics in our ecosystem. Because microbeads add to the existing problem of micro plastic waste, several countries have been seeking to ban the use of microbeads in consumer goods.

And lest we become human-centric, let us remember that plastics in our ocean ecosystem kill more than 1 million ocean mammals and birds every year.  Every year, thousands of birds die from suffocation by ingesting plastics or getting their necks caught in the plastic rings that surround beverage cans in our shops.

There is no gentler way to say it:  Our careless use and disposal of plastics is killing us and our ocean ecosystems.

Attribution, non commercial

Artwork by Zoe Nowak

 

Currently there is ground breaking research being led by Dutch inventor, Boyan Slat, in the Netherlands which seeks to use ocean currents to clean sections of the ocean of its plastic.  This technology, whilst innovative and promising, is not without controversy, in terms of the impact it may have on marine life and on its ability to eliminate micro particles from the ocean floor.  Research is also being conducted into alternative, non-petroleum based plastics that can replace current plastics, and are capable of biodegrading and being re-used in a closed loop system.  However, this is years away from being a feasible manufactured solution.  End of lifecycle research is also being conducted and entrepreneurs are experimenting with novel uses for upcycling plastics.

All of these technological advances provide hope for the future, but if these solutions to the marine plastic pollution that we have created is to have any impact, ultimately, we must stop contributing to the problem that ocean cleaning and upcycling is attempting to resolve.

TTDOG offers the following simple suggestions as a starter to help generate our own ways of building a renewed relationship with the sea and aligning our behaviour with our values.

 

Let’s educate ourselves and others

Let’s choose (if only for  today) to spend some time considering our relationship to the sea and the plastic waste that is in our oceans.   And let’s share our insights, our fears, our sorrows and our creative suggestions for building a better relationship with the sea and healing the ecological crisis that we have created.  It is easier to make changes when we are surrounded by people who share our concerns.  If we cannot find people who care about the sea, by sharing our fears and sorrow, perhaps we can encourage others to care.

 

Reflect on the value chain of your food, at every meal

Let’s take a moment before eating to consider what parts of the meal were packaged in single use plastic. When we are finished eating, how will we store our leftovers?  Do we use glass or do we use plastic containers?  How much of the plastic waste from our consumption will be upcycled or recycled?   We are what we eat.  Was any part of our meal from the sea?

Let’s consider what we would like to do differently, based on this reflection, and take action to change our habits to align with what we value.

 

Spend time at the seaside and on or in the ocean

Many of us may never have been to the seaside.  Many of us may never have had the chance to swim in the ocean.  Certainly many of us have never had the opportunity to go sailing, snorkeling or whale watching.

The seaside is a wonderful place.   Many people who visit the ocean experience a sense of calm and peace, no matter what is going on in their lives.  Many are able to experience the vastness of the sea and begin to feel a connection to that something that is bigger than ourselves.  Watching the sunrise or the sunset on the ocean can be a contemplative time that allows us to slow down and create the space, perhaps, to begin to question ourselves, our lifestyle and whether our choices are aligned with our values.

 

Artwork by Thomasz Zaczeniuk

Surfing with wales by Thomasz Zaczeniuk

 

Let us make a plan today to do something specific to encounter sea life in its natural habitat.  Swimming where dolphins migrate close to shore, taking ecological tours to see whales in their habitats, snorkeling and scuba diving all bring us closer to the beautiful creatures of marine ecosystems.  If this is not achievable, is there perhaps an aquarium nearby?  Let’s plan to slow down and watch the marine life in one particular window of the aquarium for at least 20 minutes and really notice the beauty of the marine life we see.

If we get to the seaside, we may notice a lot of rubbish floating on the surface or being churned in the tide.  Have you ever, in your life, used a plastic bag or drank soda or water from a bottle?  Your rubbish is still out there, right along with mine.

Consider what we would like to do differently, as a result of this experience? Let’s make a single step toward that, today.

 

Create a beach cleanup day, with a difference

Let’s create a beach cleanup day, with a difference.  Whether we organise our own, or participate in an existing cleanup, let’s take the time to really look at the rubbish that is on the beach.  Consider that for every piece of plastic waste, there is much more microplastic not visible to the eye.  Consider that what ends up on the beach is only a miniscule fraction of what remains in the sea and on the bottom of the ocean floor.

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Oceanside Beach Cleanup by Anne Hall

 

Let’s recycle what can be recycled, and if there is a business in the area that is working with upcycling, consider working with them to provide them the retrieved plastics.

Let’s take time at the end of the cleanup to enjoy the seaside.  Maybe make a bonfire on the beach and tell stories around the fire that revolve around the sea.  Or, if it is a family event, encourage the  children to act out a story with characters (dolphins, turtles, fish, crabs) from the sea.  Perhaps they can be encouraged to speak, in character, about how they feel about the way humankind is treating the ocean.

Let’s find a way to remember and create new mythologies of the sea whilst cleaning up the pollution we have all created.

 

 Use your own cloth or hemp shopping bags

One of the simplest behavioural changes we can make is to bring a bag with us, when we leave the home.  We don’t always know when we will buy something, so keep an environmentally friendly bag in our pocket, rucksack, or handbag.

Non commercial, attribution

Artwork by Federico de Cicco

Refuse single use plastics and plastic packaging

Where possible, let’s seek out shops that allow us to refill our own containers.  We can buy loose vegetables and weigh them, without a bag, at the self checkout.  Let’s bring our your own stainless steel coffee cup for takeaway coffees and use a stainless steel water bottle filled with filtered tap water.  At the grocery store, let’s buy goods from the bulk bins or choose items from manufacturers that have made the effort to reduce their packaging.  Where pre-packaged, buy items in glass (like milk) or paper packaging which is biodegradable or reusable.  Re-use clean glass containers for food storage or for transporting your packed lunches to work.   Let’s decide today to categorically refuse unnecessary single use plastics like straws,  and/or to  switch from a disposable plastic razor to a metal one with blade refills.

There is a lot that we can do in this one small area to eliminate the use of single use plastics and plastic packaging.

 

Eliminate the use of cosmetics containing Microbeads

Let’s find out which of our cosmetics use microbeads and stop buying them.  We can find alternatives to these or check out the David Suzuki Foundation or Mother Earth News or Treehugger  for ideas on how to make our own products that are not harmful to the environment.  If we have a favourite product that we feel we cannot live without, let’s  write to the company or start an online petition to the company to ask them to eliminate the use of microbeads in their product formula.

Attribution, non commercial, no derivatives

Artwork by Rebekah Richardson

Seek out biodegradable or compostable rubbish bags and plant based plastics

Let’s compost all organic waste, recycle all that is possible in our region, and with what is left, ensure that our consumption patterns mean that there is no non-biodegradable plastic within our waste, or making up the bag we send to landfill.  Rather than send whatever waste remains to landfill in a plastic bag which does not biodegrade in our lifetimes, let’s seek out rubbish bags that do use biodegradable material.

There are repercussions of using plants for mass production of plastics and organisations like the World Wildlife Fund are working with businesses to ensure that production is sustainable. One impact, for example is that using plant based feed stock for plastics may drive up food prices for the poor. Let’s not allow ourselves to become complacent about our consumption.

For instance, recently a company invented edible six pack beverage rings.   The press coverage could lead people to believe that beverage rings were no longer a threat to marine and bird life.  This is not the case.  The rings are used by one small brewery only, and all rings should still be cut up to avoid animal entrapment.

Replace Diapers and Feminine Hygiene Products with Reusable Products

Given our busy lives, this may seem overly burdensome.  However, diapers sent to landfill create a biohazard for the community and do not biodegrade.  Similarly, in North America alone, 20 million pieces of feminine hygiene products are sent to landfill or into our water courses each year.  These, too, constitute bio hazardous waste.  And, with an ageing population, there has been a noticeable rise in incontinence products now clogging up our landfills and making their way into our oceans, as well.

Recycling schemes are beginning to pop up, however, taking into consideration the power and water requirements, it still seems that a more environmentally friendly solution is to switch to cloth diapers,  cloth maxi pads and a menstrual cup and cloth incontinence pads.  Again, TTDOG does not suggest we must be perfect in all of our behaviour change.  But, perhaps we can make the switch on those days when we will be spending the day in our homes, working from home or have a light menstrual flow.  Even making this partial shift will make a significant difference to the amount of plastic we send to landfill or that makes its way into our oceans.

It is worth noting that our ancestors used cloth for all of these purposes, for hundreds of years.

 

Choose natural fabrics

Polar Fleece, nylon and polyester are among the many synthetic fabrics that are made from plastics.  Like all plastic products, they do not biodegrade and have been found in the oceans.

If we haven’t already, let’s go forward by switching our future purchases to natural fabrics.  For those synthetic items in our wardrobe already, let’s ensure that they do not end up in our oceans or landfill.  Let’s participate in programs like the North Face Clothes The Loop program which repurposes synthetic fabrics and keeps them out of landfill and our oceans.

 

Remember there are three R’s – Reduce, Re-use, and only then, Recycle

Having reduced, and eliminated the use of as many plastics as possible, let’s reuse what we can safely reuse, and only then, recycle. We need not be the one to reuse our plastic.  If a business in the area is developing uses for existing plastics, let’s engage with them to see if we can bring our own, or our neighbourhood’s or workplace’s plastics to them for a second life.

If an item cannot be reused or recycled, let’s pause and consider our values at the checkout counter.  Is there not some creative way to forego buying it? For instance, instead of plastic wrap, let’s use glass containers to keep foods fresh and use paper or cloth to wrap sandwiches for workplace lunches. And remember that all white goods and electronics – which use significant amounts of plastic – must be recycled, in the EU.

Recycling should be our last resort because only two types of plastic are widely recyclable.  Even these plastics are currently recycled into a lower grade plastic that is not further recyclable and is likely then to end up in our oceans.

Attribution, non commercial, no derivatives

Artwork by Ryan Miranda

 

 

The current ecological crisis, and its impact on our oceans, has developed from our individualism and destructive consumption.  By working to restore a reverence for the oceans and to align our consumption with our sense of Oneness with the earth, we can make Every Day, Earth Day.

 

As a starter, here are some links:

Working with Oneness

The Ocean Cleanup (with Boyan Slat)

World Wildlife Fund

Greenpeace

David Suzuki Foundation

Wake-up World

We’d love to hear from you.

Please share your insights with the TTDOG community!

 

 

 

Articles, Nature, Oneness

Making Every Day, Earth Day: Working with Oneness

June 8, 2016
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Photo by NASA

Not long ago, we celebrated another Earth Day. For many of us, marking Earth Day demonstrates that we care about the environment, however, setting aside one day per year for Earth Day or Women’s Day or Mother’s Day always sits uncomfortably with me.  I feel that as long as we need a special day of remembrance, we are not fully integrated with Feminine energy, caregiving, or the Earth.  And, on a practical level, there is a danger that attending an event on the given day may generate the good vibes of actually making a contribution, while our behaviour has not changed at all.

On Earth Day, an artist that I follow posted to his social media account a woodcut print that he had made.

 

 

Like the images in the print, he made an impassioned plea to his social media followers to rethink their values and consumption patterns.  He ended his plea with: “Every Day Should Be Earth Day.”  He isn’t the first person to have said this, but he does not seem to use words lightly, so when he speaks, I pay attention, and I think about what he has said.  Over the next few days, I thought a lot about it.

What would it take to truly make every day, Earth Day?

Behavioural change, is needed, to be sure. And so, I set about developing something that, as a sustainability consultant, was within my reach:  A series on ecological issues and behavioural changes that we could all make to help address the issues.  I completed and edited and polished the first article.  But I couldn’t publish.  I knew something fundamental was missing.  It wasn’t the first article, after all.

I needed to get out of my comfortable position of understanding, in order to begin at the beginning.

At the heart of  behavioural change must be a real shift in consciousness and an awakening to the insanity of our apparent indifference to the consequences of our lifestyles.  That awakening would seem to require a deep reverence for the Earth and clarity on what we are doing to destroy her.  I am not saying that we should not reduce and eliminate the use of plastics, switch to clean energy, grow our own food, reduce water and embedded water use and avoid the use of conflict minerals like Coltan, found in electronics.  But I do believe that we must begin with a perceptual shift toward the interconnectedness of all things: Oneness.

Those of you who have navigated around this website will notice that I have not completed the article on Oneness.  I have deliberately left it blank, for now.  I have been writing for nearly two years about Oneness as we each develop our own understanding and meaning.

There are many great thinkers who have had something to say about the concept:

 

“Oneness is very simple: everything is included and allowed to live according to its true nature. This is the secret that is being revealed, the opportunity that is offered. How we make use of this opportunity depends upon the degree of our participation, how much we are prepared to give ourselves to the work that needs to be done, to the freedom that needs to be lived.”

— Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee from the book Working with Oneness

“From out of all the many particulars comes oneness, and out of oneness come all the many particulars.”

— Heraclitus

“A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.”

— Albert Einstein

 

We require a paradigm shift.

Last month, we celebrated North American Mother’s Day. There is meant to be no greater bond between humans than that of the bond between child and primary caregiver, regardless of gender or biological relationship. Our first relationship, with “Mother,” is an archetypal one.  It is, for better or worse, a relationship that defines us.  Yet we seem to have forgotten that our first Mother is the Earth.  Connecting to Oneness may help our remembrance of her and to re-establish and work with our archetypal relationship with the primary caregiver of us all.

Of course, when we begin to do this, if we are truly witnessing what is happening, we cannot help but feel overwhelming pain.  As horrible as it is, perhaps the grief of “witnessing” is a sign that we are on the right path.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, one of the Interfaith leaders dedicated to Working With Oneness offers a brief talk on our current ecological crisis, in this 7 minute film.

 

I understand that not everyone reading this will resonate with the concept of magic.  However, it is useful to note that Vaughan-Lee is not only a mystic but a Jungian psychologist.  I don’t pretend to understand the depths of Jungian analysis, but I have some knowledge.  Perhaps we can consider this destructive entrancement as a kind of strangle hold on our collective unconsciousness.  We need a paradigm shift to break free; It seems, to me, that the first step toward that paradigm shift is in working with Oneness.

So, how can we work with Oneness?

In whatever way is natural to you, every single day.  I came to my own understanding and practice of Oneness through a spark that was lit by Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee and the Interfaith leaders of Working With Oneness.  I am not an expert in Oneness – I struggle as much as anyone to work with it, every day.  However, there are many experts on many spiritual paths which take up the practice, even if not so named.  And, Einstein shows that shifting to working with Oneness is not the preserve of the mystic or the spiritual aspirant.  For the secular among us, an association with a group of like minded people who care about the planet, and who practice compassion towards all living beings, can help us connect and work with Oneness.

For the spiritual seeker, I suggest looking to your own path to see how Oneness with the planet is called to manifest.  If you practice healing, perhaps make it a regular part of your practice to send healing to the planet and to the soul of the planet – the Anima Mundi. If you are a meditator, yogi or have some other spiritual practice, dedicate at least some of your practice to healing the planet. In your remembrances of the Divine Quantum, remember that Divine Life that is Mother Earth.

Working with Oneness will, no doubt, bring us in touch with grief as we witness what is.  It is a terrible burden that is necessary for the transformation that can lead to the creation of a new story.

If you are an artist, writer, or musician, connect with, and start to tell not just the story of destruction and crisis, but the new story of Life.  How?  However you can.  All art originates from storytelling and heroic tales.  We are all on a heroic journey through the dark night of the soul – now, it is no longer just our own soul, but the soul of the planet, as well.  We must make this journey alone, but with the knowledge that we are together, in this darkness, with one another and our Mother Earth.  Like the hero, we must find the light in the darkness that leads us to the other side, or else, we risk being lost.  Too much grief can dim the creative light and energy in us all, if we don’t also work to midwife the new story of Life.

If you are not an artist, writer or musician – create, anyway!   Create a community garden, draw a picture of a tree, tell a story from the point of view of an animal, sing a song when you go for a walk.  I come from the West coast of Canada.  When hiking, it is advisable to wear a bell to warn bears that a human is approaching and to avoid a startled and possibly dangerous meeting.  I don’t wear a bear bell; I sing.  I’m pretty sure I’m not in key, but do the birds worry about being in key?  They just sing.  Rebirth is a creative process; Let’s generate as much creative energy as we can.

Let’s spend more time in and develop a new relationship with nature.  Let’s reflect on the wonder of the natural world and how we have not only taken her for granted, but destroyed her with our forgetfulness.  Let’s learn to listen with our intuition, our imagination and our hearts to the story she wants to tell, and to our role in the narrative.  Let’s  reflect on the food chain at each meal and reflect upon what has gone into bringing this food to our supermarket, our kitchen and our table.  Reflection on this may lead to an understanding of our own role in creating the toxins poisoning our Mother Earth and finding its way into our food and it may help make conscious the ways in which we are creating and exacerbating drought conditions around the planet with our consumption patterns.  It may lead us to switch from fossil fuels, eliminate plastic waste and grow our own food in a community garden, as we care gently for our Mother Earth.

There are so many ways to work with Oneness and discovering the way that is right for each of us is part of our own individual part of the story.

Behavioural change is crucial for our survival.  But a more important change must come if we are to avoid patching up a system built upon a paradigm that is fundamentally broken and unsustainable.  If we really work with Oneness, we all must accept responsibility for our part in the current ecological crisis that comes from recognising we are one with the story of destruction as well as the story of creative healing that is required.

In the coming months, we will look at ways we can change our behaviour and our ethos around various issues.  For me, as much as anyone else, it will also be a venture into the unknown world of working with Oneness with Mother Earth.

If there is an issue you feel strongly about, or if you’d like to write an article, a poem or feature some artwork related to the topic, contact us.

Let’s make some magic.

 

 

Art, Art, Articles, Community, Music, Nature, Oneness, Service

James Wheale and Nomadic Community Gardens – Creating Community through Meanwhile Use

May 2, 2016

High costs and chemical contamination of fresh food is leading more and more individuals to seek to grow at least a portion of their own food, themselves.  But as global populations continue to shift from being rural to city dwellers, gardening can be a challenge.

 

Artwork by Monsù Plin in Nomadic Community Gardens. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Artwork by Monsù Plin in Nomadic Community Gardens. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Urban gardening seeks to fill this void.  Urban gardening is the practice of growing food within a city environment and can involve animal husbandry.  It is a way of mixing urban style and design with nature and can reduce food miles by growing foods local to their use.  Urban gardens help improve biodiversity, reduce urban rainwater runoff and help to mitigate the”heat island” effect caused by the concentration of infrastructure and lack of passageways of cooling air in cities. While most cities are far from the ideal envisioned by forward thinking urban planners, it is possible, with vertical farming, hydroponics, various agricultural technologies, and visionary architectural design, to conceive of a future where cities grow most of what the residents need, within the city confines.  In the meantime, current urban gardens, like those on the High Line in Manhattan, provide relaxing green spaces for residents and revitalise business in the area.

 

Artwork in the Nomadic Community Gardens by Artista

 

Making the most of this growing trend is Nomadic Community Gardens, situated in the heart of the hip East End section of London known as Shoreditch.  Nomadic Community Gardens works with city developers to care for disused urban spaces in a “meanwhile” use as they await planning permission to build.  The space provides a venue for not only gardening but for community gathering of all kinds.  The gardens are called “nomadic” because everything is portable and can be moved to a new location. Beds are built on pallettes to be transportable and to prevent contamination of and by the ground.

 

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On Sunday 1 May, Nomadic Community Gardens celebrated a first birthday.  The joyous celebration comes after several years of hard work to gain land use permission and a year of tenancy in the garden.  The success of the community garden is largely due to the vision and dedication of James (Jimmy) Wheale, co-founder and Director of Nomadic Community Gardens and the next in our series of individuals using their skills to make a difference.

 

James Wheale, co-founder and Director, Nomadic Community Gardens

James Wheale, co-founder and Director, Nomadic Community Gardens.  Art by drzadok.

 

We met with Wheale earlier in the spring to discuss the social enterprise that has brought new life to a disused space off Brick Lane.

 

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“I came across and idea in Berlin, when I was living there several years ago.  It was a meanwhile use of space in an old carpark that they’d gotten the permission to use and so they created a cafe and a garden in a sort of foresty area and I thought: ‘Wow! There’s no reason this kind of thing can’t happen here.'”

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Wheale admits “Continental Europe are light years ahead of us in terms of using space for the meanwhile time period and with a concentration on the creation of communities and the qualitative benefits that they bring to people’s lives,” yet, he was determined to turn his idea into a reality, in London.

When Wheale returned from Berlin, he described the idea to his friend, Junior, who had moved into a flat near to a disused space.  Over the next couple of years,  the two developed a winning proposal for the disused land, and when the land was sold to London Newcastle, they pitched the idea to the new owners.

We’re attempting to act as a conduit between a corporation that finds it difficult to reach communities and the communities who need resources and who need space.  Our project is there to find space and organise it so that communities can make use of it and if local authorities support what we’re doing it becomes more attractive to development companies who are trying to get permission from local authorities to do developments.   If they can subside something in the meantime it almost offsets the damage that can happen in development.”

 

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“Luckily for us,” Wheale says “their leadership has vision and believes in social responsibility and so they allowed it.”

London Newcastle quickly gave approval and although the team hoped to have access to the space in February 2015, in order to prepare the land for the growing season, they only gained access in May.  This meant that there was a tremendous push to get garden beds ready for the remainder of the growing season.  Fortunately, they built over 100 beds, and because of the position of the garden between two railway lines, without overshadowing buildings, the conditions were perfect for growing vegetables.  In a densely occupied city like London, Wheale notes, this “breadth of horizon is unheard of.”  With such a great deal of sunlight, the vegetables grew quickly in the first season and gave the residents the boost they needed to their enthusiasm for urban gardening.

 

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The space was initially leased to Nomadic Community Gardens, to act as caretakers, on an initial 6 month lease.   Wheale admits that he couldn’t demonstrate to the owners that he had done this sort of work before and that the plan would work, and he credits London Newcastle for their faith in the team.

“They took a real chance on us,” he says.

The lease has now been renewed, but the garden could be given 2 months notice, at any time, to vacate the space.  

“But, you know, that’s part of the deal,” he adds.

In anticipation of this, Wheale has been talking with other landowners about taking the garden elsewhere, when London Newcastle begins to develop the land.  Wheale explains that the intent of the project has never been to reclaim land from development but to make use of the resources, for the community, in the meantime.

Beds in the garden are free to residents and the garden is self supporting through the hosting of events that generate a minimal income to cover basic running expenses.  Wheale hopes that in future gardens, development companies could subsidize start up costs to allow gardens to focus on being self sustaining once they are operating.  In this way, the garden does not need to apply for funds from limited charity funding sources.

“Obviously we’ll never be earning big bucks,” Wheale says “but it doesn’t need it.”  

For the Shoreditch Nomadic Gardens, Wheale used in his own savings for start up costs to get the ball rolling.  Some of his investment has been repaid, though he admits that not all of it has.

“The boss always gets paid last,” he says, smiling.

 

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At present, the garden is tended by volunteers, but Wheale has plans to pay certain key roles in the garden and if the garden concept spreads to other areas, he hopes to be able to provide employment opportunities, training and skills development along with community garden resources.

 

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Wheale has a degree in Cultural Studies and has developed an eclectic set of skills.  He worked in construction, and gained problem solving skills and determination in his time in the theatre industry. He has managed bars, where he learned to create ambiance and to nurture the social relationships of a community.  Wheale also has prior experience with organic gardening.  He argues that bringing vegetation into the urban environment is important for increasing biodiversity, and allows wildlife to flourish.  The gardens also provide habitat for bees, which are currently under threat in many countries.

Vegetation, Wheale says, “softens the urban environment so you’re not always facing hard, impenetrable surfaces and there is a sort of therapeutic and health benefit to vegetative life, whether it’s just walking around it or growing it and tending to it and reaping rewards from it.”

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Whilst Wheale likes the idea of offsetting carbon emissions with more vegetation, his main reason for creating the garden, was the social aspect and potential to improve urban quality of life.

 

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“One of the most important things for people is quality of life.  We are the sum of our relationships, and I saw that spaces in cities were being restricted with austerity measures and space is really where we get to build those relationships.  Creating a community garden I thought was important, with the idea of growing vegetables because I felt that was a universal language that would create more cohesion as they all share in an activity.  And that grew into trying to meet the more diverse needs of people in the community.”

 

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In our trips to the garden, TTDOG experienced the great ambience of camaraderie and community.  Friendships have been established and grown through the experience of being a part of the community garden.  TTDOG asked Wheale how community became so important to him.

“It really came from my studies.  It opened my eyes to the way society is structured and the way that structure affects people’s experiences, and I think that there is something to be said for support networks.  We need to feel like people are caring for us and know our name.  Anonymity is a really dangerous kind of experience to fall into and the way that society is organised and the way it atomises people not only affects their quality of life but also means that they’re under a level of consciousness that isn’t really benefitting them.  They’re sort of really propping up something that is benefitting out of them.”

 

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The garden has a wide reach through what Wheale calls various “spheres of influence” from the sphere of the immediate community that tends to their beds to the wider community that comes to the garden for workshops and social events to an even wider sphere of tourists who visit the garden and take ideas back to their own communities. And, because they have so much manpower and materials now, the team at the garden has been able to help other community projects, building beds for other gardens, and hosting workshops for other community gardens.

Nomadic Community Gardens currently hosts skills training in pallete furniture building, pallets bed building and basic DIY skills. There is also knowledge sharing in gardening.

Individuals experience a sense of satisfaction from the relaxed atmosphere and previously frictious relations between different communities have been eased and bridges built between members of these communities who have come together in the garden.

 

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There are cafes in the garden and market stalls can be established to accommodate people’s enterprise.

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The garden plays host to street artists who paint the walls with beautiful murals, musicians who jam on music nights and interactive theatre events.

 

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Art by Fanakapan provides a backdrop for an impromptu market stall in the garden

 

TTDOG wondered how the community might respond when the landlord chooses to develop the land, removing this wonderful oasis for gathering, learning, sharing and gardening.  Wheale philosophised that there may be a saturation point for community resources, when their impact begins to ebb.  This may be because people have had the benefit of it, learned the skills they wanted to learn, or the limit is reached in terms of the number of beds.  At that point, the garden can become more exclusionary than inclusionary and moving to a new location allows a new community to reap the benefits of the life cycle of the public space.

And, when there is a void that is left behind, this can create the impetus for the community, who has had the benefit of the space, to create it for themselves.  His hope is that this can create a kind of community activism to rejuvenate and develop their own public spaces.

 

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TTDOG asked Wheale’s advice on creating a community garden using meantime use:

“Come to me and I’ll give you the lowdown.  I underestimated what it was going to take to get this project off the ground.  There is a whole world of stuff that you have to do from writing literature that inspires people to having the practical knowledge of how to build things to the social knowledge of how to manage relationships, create and hold space and see yourself as the gatekeeper and not the possessor, how to relinquish control and allow stuff to happen organically, and, how to have discipline to turn up and work and inspire.  One of the things is also creating the relationships with the PLCs and have them believe in you.  You have to come with a proper proposal and a plan and some sort of strategy.

It’s no mean feat.  You need to have a bit of self confidence and self love, because there’s been so many times when you think:  ‘Should I just walk away?'”

Wheale looks around at what he and his team have created, and continues:

“It’s not an easy task and it looks great because it’s come through the really hard work of people that believe in it.  But the only way to have more of these gardens is if the communities run them, themselves.  I’d like to provide consultancy and maybe have some sort of a manual and some Youtube videos.”

 

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“You’ve got to be the change you want to see in the world.  One of the beauties of consciousness is that you can learn by doing.  You don’t have to necessarily know how to do, before you do.  There needs to be a certain conviction and a direction of purposeful intention that you go towards a goal and stick with it.  Appreciate the down times and have gratitude for when it’s all coming together.  You just have to start and you’ll find your way.  And you may have a couple of false starts but it’s about the personal journey.

We’re all destined for greatness as long as we tread that road.”

 

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As is our practice at TTDOG, we asked Wheale:

For what are you grateful and where do you find your greatest joy?

 

“I’m grateful for the experience to experience life. We are eternal spirits that have entered a soul to experience this space time.  And I’m grateful for the tools that I have to experience it.  I’m just happy to try to make the most use of them as I can in my lifetime and hopefully encourage others to live to the maximum of our potential and the fullness of our being.”

 

James Wheale, enjoying the community gathering at Nomadic Community Gardens’ 1st Anniversary Party

 

“My greatest joy is in that experience: the emotions that come from the sensory communications that we have in our life.  As much joy as I can feast myself on, really.  And not without sadness.  I think sadness is as valid an emotion as joy and happiness is.  You need to sit with your pain and work through your demons and I think that everybody has insecurities and everyone has something traumatic happen to them and those are the two defining experiences of our lives, and those are the important things to work on.  

Once you work on those, the door is open for more joy.”

 

Nomadic Community Gardens is located off Brick Lane and is open Monday – Sunday 10 am to 10 pm.  The garden hosts special events and workshops daily. Meeting of Styles UK will hold a major event on the UK bank holiday 27, 28, 29th in the garden with dozens of artists gathering in an annual Paint Jam. The public is welcome to come and watch live painting, enjoy food, music and drinks in a relaxed community setting.

 

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Meeting of Styles wall organised by artist Jim Vision and End of The Line. Various artists are represented.

 

For other events, and to follow Nomadic Community Gardens or to contact James Wheale, click the links to be directed to the Facebook page, Twitter account, or Website.

 

Art, Art, Articles, Nature, Oneness, Service

Louis Masai and His Tribe: Shepherding Consciousness Towards Animal Welfare

January 20, 2016

We kick off 2016 with the first in a series of articles featuring individuals who are making a difference in the world – where they are, with the talents they have – through Service.  Our first interview features the UK artist Louis Masai, who uses his skills as a contemporary fine artist and muralist to give a voice to the voiceless and promote environmental conservation.

The global climate summit COP 21 concluded last month and Louis Masai traveled to Paris to add to his works with the environmental NGO, Synchronicity Earth, on endangered species.  In advance of the climate talks, he painted a coral mural outside Paris which is part of a series of murals he is painting in several countries.

In September, Louis Masai began the series by creating the largest mural he has painted to date, in London.  The painting depicted a coral reef with various reef dependent species to highlight the biodiversity of marine ecosystems and corals under threat.  The work was the artist’s first interactive piece, with members of the public suggesting species to include in his design as he painted, and the work received tremendous media attention.  The artist has gone on to paint smaller coral follow-up pieces in Ireland, South London and Paris.

 

#LondonLovesCoral Mural by Louis Masai with Synchronicity Earth, in London

#LondonLovesCoral Mural by Louis Masai with Synchronicity Earth, in London. Photo by Tania Campbell

 

Marine ecosystems are vitally important to life on the planet.  Oceans cover more than 2/3 of the surface, and plankton in marine ecosystems provide 50% of the world’s oxygen as well as food and livelihoods for vast numbers of the global population, particularly for the world’s poor.  As part of the marine ecosystem, coral reefs are home to a multitude of marine life but with climate change, coastal runoff, overfishing and marine pollution, 75% of the world’s coral reefs are currently under threat  with some environmentalists projecting that 90% of the worlds reefs will be under threat by 2030.   The worlds largest coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef, barely remained off the UNESCO endangered list in 2015 and remains under a severe threat watch for the next several years.

These threats have serious implications for mankind.  Seagrasses and mangroves have been lost with the worsening health of marine ecosystems.  When coupled with coral losses and degradation, this has promoted the growth of disease spreading algal blooms in coastal waters which threaten to change disease vectors for masses of populations of humans and terrestrial wildlife.  The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) scientists responsible for projections about the likelihood of climate change and the risks and impacts of that climate change  confirm in their 5th Assessment report the vulnerability of coral reefs.  The existing and projected degradation of coral reefs exacerbates the threat of sea level rise to coastal systems and low-lying areas and this will persist, even if the world manages to stabilise temperatures.

The environmental threat from degradation of the world’s reefs and marine ecosystems is extreme and it will take the concerted effort of the world’s population to improve our combined destiny.  Digesting this grave information is not easy but  Louis Masai has teamed up with Synchronicity Earth to help raise awareness by making all the frightening statistics more accessible and personal.

 

Louis Masai workng on his mural #LondonLovesCoral. Photo Courtesy of London Calling Blog

Louis Masai working on his mural #LondonLovesCoral. Photo Courtesy of London Calling Blog on Instagram: @ldn_calling_blog

 

Whilst the COP 21 Climate Change summit was underway in Paris, we had the opportunity to connect with the artist via email for an interview.

 

TTDOG: You have shied away from the term activist in the past, but I know that you care deeply about the rapid wave of extinctions of species and of biodiversity loss. You have expanded beyond individual species and animals now to a much wider crisis – that of the vanishing coral reefs and, therefore, of entire marine ecosystems. You have painted in Paris at the start of COP21 where all the world’s leaders gathered to set the agenda that will affect the world’s climate which is arguably at a tipping point.  What does this wider vision and forum mean to you and how do you hope your work will impact on leaders, environmentalists and individuals?

LM: Well, to be honest, I doubt very much that politicians that aren’t already engaged in the thoughts of environmental issues will become altered by stumbling upon my coral hearts in Paris or by the other paintings that I have done.  In fact, they are probably blissfully unaware that I am doing it.  There are other art projects happening in Paris that might reach them, but even still, I don’t personally believe that visual language can reach an unethical mind.  However, I do believe that the people that vote governments in to power will be affected by visual language and I also believe that these images can inform the general public and, hopefully, unite the people to encourage the right politicians to lead countries and represent us at environmental summits.

Environmentalists love my work for the simple reason that it addresses issues that they are concerned with;  It depicts them in an attractive way, and it helps to reach the wider audience.  And, as individuals, I think 1 in 10 people will take note and allow for the message to override the actual image itself.  I hope so, anyway.

 

TTDOG:  You have said before that you inject a human element in your work.  Have you done this in your recent series of coral paintings with synchronicity earth? In what way?

LM:  Well the big coral mural I did in London doesn’t depict human juxtaposition in the way that my other work does, but if you look into the centre of the shape, there is a heart shaped hole which I have coined “the keyhole” which means the  biodiversity that I have created is a padlock.  Every keyhole has a key.  

 

Detail from London mural #LondonLovesCoral by Louis Masai with empty heart "keyhole"amidst the biodiversity padlock. Photo courtesy of Instagrammer @m_frenchie

Detail from London mural #LondonLovesCoral by Louis Masai with empty heart “keyhole” in the upper left circle.      Photo courtesy of Instagrammer @m_frenchi

 

The coral hearts that I painted in South London, Paris and before in Ireland are the keys.  This idea of keys and lock symbolises that to unlock a sustainable ecosystem, like the coral reef, we must all have a key to invest into its survival.  The keys become metaphors for the human itself, and thus, the juxtaposition of human and animal becomes a little bit more obvious.  Essentially all my coral paintings are connected together in some way because of the heart, which by the way is not shaped like I have painted them, this shape is a human interpretation.

 

Coral Key in South London by Louis Masai. Photo by Tania Campbell

Coral Key in South London by Louis Masai. Photo by Tania Campbell

 

TTDOG: Your work seems to focus on environmental crisis. What drives you to give a voice to those who do not have one within your paintings and then to engage and include so called marginalised people who are not otherwise part of the environmental discussion through interaction with your art?

LM: I haven’t ever stopped to figure that out, it’s just something that happened naturally, over time.  I guess I’m just creating large real life jigsaw puzzles.

 

TTDOG: Your name is “Masai” and it is a word that seems both sacred and integral to your painting. Would you be willing to share how you gained the name and how it’s meaning infuses your work? What does it mean to you to call your followers “Masai Tribe?”

LM: I have fond memories of wild tales from my Opa about my dad in the Cameroons (now part of Nigeria and the Country of Cameroon) and it is those stories twinned with the Archeological treasures we had at home that steered me in the direction of tribal cultures. I soon discovered an amazing book called Africa Adorned (By Angela Fisher). I became fixated with a tall tribe bearing spears and shields, dressed in beautiful red tartans.

I later understood them to be the Masai warrior tribe.

I have a particular interest in the idea of one’s creation and the way that a person can shape and define who and what they are perceived to be by the general public. Being that I am an artist and one that engages in the public domain on a daily basis, I realised that my love of graffiti and the ideology of fame through a moniker or alter ego was, in many ways, no different from the inventions of the band names and frontmen that I was listening to, on my records. It’s also not uncommon for fine artists to invent their own names. Man Ray, for example, even took it a step further and his name became the art itself. Again, I found this very interesting and something that I wanted to incorporate with my own work.

With these factors all combined and running around my busy head some 8 or 9 years ago, I decided that I wanted a powerful name that I hoped could one day become as important as the work i was creating. I feel it’s starting to approach that place now, especially as my work is about raising awareness for endangered species and threatened ecosystems. The Masai are shepherds which is a nice link to the idea of an artist collecting consciousness amongst the peoples for animal welfare.

The reason for using Masai tribe in my social media is as a way to remind my followers that we are all unified in the success of one mans objectives. If mine is to spread awareness then it’s the tribe’s to move it from my page to theirs and further. I feel the word tribe removes any superiority amongst us.

 

TTDOG: I admire the way you have worked so incredibly hard and collaborated with activists to both make a living as an artist and to make a difference in the world. Both the art world and the world of socio/environmental/political change are really challenging.  People often fear that they alone can’t make a difference. What would you say to them?

LM: Well, to start with, it depends what that one man standing solo is trying to achieve.   You can’t play football on your own, but you can play a game with that ball on your own.  So I guess what I’m saying is that if you want to make a difference and you feel isolated and alone then change the way you address it or go and knock and some doors and get a full team of football fans to play with you.

For me words like “original”, “unique” and “individual” are misused words because someone else has done it before, thought it before, and there will be many to follow.   What i mean is that there are many more “you”’s out there and they care just as much, so find them.  Your mission is to create the links, make a tribe and spread the message further.

 

Throughout his career, Louis has been evolving, creating connections and spreading his message.  Although not always connecting his painting with specific conservation projects, he has long had a special ability to paint character-filled animals.  Painting for several group and solo contemporary art gallery exhibitions, he also honed his skills with public murals in London and in several other countries.  Louis’ evolving relationship with visual communication between animals as subjects and the public as viewer matured through several series of works, and began to focus on raising awareness of endangered species.  His earlier work with Synchronicity Earth marked the passing of the 50th anniversary of the IUCN Red List for endangered species.

Shortly after this project, TTDOG  had the pleasure to meet the artist at his solo exhibition “Batteries Not Included”, in London.  There, Louis spoke about his work with Synchronicity Earth and of the importance for the public to understand and act now on the IUCN Red List for endangered species.  His deeply moving connection with his subjects and his conviction to try to make a change was palpable to all in attendance.

A film by Synchronicity Earth was launched at the opening of the exhibition and provides a glimpse into the passion and purpose of Louis Masai and the Synchronicity Earth Team.

 

Whilst busy creating several other series of paintings for gallery exhibitions and as public art, Louis Masai teamed up in 2014 with fellow artist Jim Vision to turn their skills towards an urgent issue – the collapse of pollinator communities across the UK.   Engaging with the public to educate and raise awareness, the pair created a series of murals in London.  The project culminated in a day of community consciousness and awareness raising around the delicate ecosystem and the threats to the food chain, and textile crops from colony collapse.  Local beekeepers, Friends of the Earth, Hiver honey beer, Thompson Morgan seeds and Rockwell House joined the artists’ cause, to help make the project a success.
The project to save the bees caught the attention and inspired the imagination of the UK public.  A short film by Emil Walker helped deliver the message of the dangers to humanity of the collapse of bee colonies to audiences beyond the UK.

 

 

The project has been featured in social media by environmentalists such as Greenpeace, and Ecowatch, activist sites like Films for Action and the trend setting site Bored Panda as well as mainstream media.  As the debate around banning neonics continues in countries like USA and Canada, and as Europe and the global South works to revive the pollinator population, the project provides a perfect example of how communities are both impacted by and can impact upon bee colony health.

 

Although the global climate meeting of the Conference of Parties 21 concluded late last year with a landmark climate agreement to end fossil fuels use and limit carbon emissions, implementing this agreement and limiting the other greenhouse gasses which threaten the climate will be a complicated process involving unpopular political policy and major lifestyle adjustments for the world’s population.  We know this work cannot be done by governments alone.

As the world struggles to back away from climate disaster,  Louis Masai’s paintings, as real life jigsaw puzzles, help remind even a fraction of his audience that we each hold the key to unlock the preservation of biodiversity.

 

We asked Louis Masai one final question:

 

TTDOG:  For what are you most grateful, and where do you find your greatest joy?

LM:  I just give thanks for the life I live.     For me,  joy is in nature,  so I hope to find ways to preserve it.

 

 

For further information on the work of Louis Masai:
Louis Masai’s Website
Louis Masai on Facebook
Louis Masai on Instagram
Art, Articles, Meditation, Music, Nature, Oneness, The Practices

Why I choose Art in times of crisis

November 16, 2015
Inside the Musée D'Orsay, Paris France. Photo by Tania D Campbell

Inside the Musée D’Orsay, Paris France. Photo by Tania D Campbell

In 2001, I was living and working in Lower Manhattan. My boyfriend, my social circle, and my spiritual community were all in Manhattan. It was home.

My home came under attack.  I was consumed by the news.  It ate away at my insides.  And then, I turned it off.

Two days after the attacks on New York in 2001, my boss closed the studio and we went to look at art on the upper west side. I can’t even remember what art gallery we went to that day, but I do remember being on the roof and in the presence of incredible sculptures and seeing a sky not filled with smoke, for a change.

That day began my experience of communion, through art.

The very nature of art is to interrogate our perceptions of reality, to question what makes us human, to strip away all that is unnecessary in order to find the essence.  The ultimate aim of art is simply one thing only: Truth.

 

Truth, it has been said, is the preserve of the artist, the poet and the mystic.

 

Some would say that Truth is also the preserve of religion and the press.   The spin doctors of political agenda use the media to incite and divide the public.  Our press is owned by corporations with profit motives that dictate certain agendas.  Information is delivered in reductionist snippets and hashtags. There is neither discourse nor freedom in most of the ways we consume “news” from the press.  How can a media so constructed deliver the Truth?  I question whether it can ever even deliver the facts.

I have not lost my faith in the power of the word. I do believe in discourse and the power of the word to persuade. I believe in being informed and taking reports from a wide variety of sources. I believe in listening to scholars and experts and in discussing what is being said. But all of that simply delivers opinion.

Oh I do believe in words.  Words, like all art, can approximate the Truth.  But it is not their content which provides our insight.  Words may only have the power to approximate Truth through the ambiguity of the spaces between those well chosen words.

As in music, it is the silences that give words their meaning.

 

As for religion, it has long been the organising force around which wars have been fought.  Religion became the rallying force for a political agenda driven through the media. Since 2001, the combination of religion and the media has lead to wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, and violent acts of terrorism in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America.

It remains so, now, as crusade and counter crusade strike a chord of familiarity in our collective unconsciousness, whose shared history is one of bloodshed and violence as much as peace and progress.  Currently, there is a lot of talk about the crusades and apocalyptic thinking of a certain group of terrorists.

I am an Interfaith Minister and I chose that path because I believe in the Truth of Oneness that lies at the heart of all of humanity regardless of belief.  It is a rejection of the divisive power of Religions to embrace all faiths and all paths of light whose aim is to seek the Truth  – including the paths of atheism and of science.    There are some that call this a nonsense path in the face of opposing ideologies born in the Middle Ages.  They are entitled to their beliefs, as well. And beliefs are simply that: they are not facts and they are not Truth.

And the argument goes: But how can we stand aside and do nothing when one side has already set up camp on the battlefield?  It is a good argument, if we look at the logic and the rhetoric and if we choose to believe that our God takes sides.

And yet, setting up battle camps on either side of this line, will surely, with today’s technology of killing, usher in a bloody war that we may well wish would unleash the apocalypse.

 

The mystic knows that in every religion, there is one way to know God. It is not from the pulpit nor on the battlefield.  God, in all religions, is revealed in the silence of the heart.

And if we choose to kill God and all concepts of God, we find that it is in the silence of meditation, contemplation, and communion with art and with nature that we can experience what we might call Oneness.

 

As the world struggles to make sense of an outer existence that has once again shown itself to be chaotic, distressing and unpredictable, I choose to turn off the media barrage and seek the one unchanging Truth of Oneness.

I meditate, I send healing to the hearts of family and friends of the dead and for the passage of the souls of the dead, and of course, I cry.  I make inquiries of friends who have been impacted and I listen.  I select my news and I engage in discourse with a variety of sources.  And, with a meditative stillness, I turn to contemplation and communion with art.

On Friday evening, as events were beginning in Paris, I was leaving the Giacometti exhibition in London.  It was an uplifting and deeply moving exhibition.  In describing his own process, Giacometti referred to the material from which he formed his sculptures as the illusion, itself. He sought to pare down the superfluous to reveal the presence of the living essence of being – not of any particular person – but of us all.

In the spaces between the words, in the silence of our hearts, in quiet contemplation with nature and with art, the Oneness of being calls to us constantly because we are a part of it.  We can choose to enhance its light or to shroud it in darkness by what we bring into our collective unconsciousness, our very essence of being.

 

What will you choose, this week?