This is a blog of ongoing projects starting with: 1) Antarctica -Dec. 2006 - February 2007 2) Work made from the experience 2008 3) Nevada Feb. - Oct. 2008

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Sucker Done dried up itself

Stuff still proliferating on the blogoshere about Carbon Sink. The faculty member who made the initial remark to me back in November about no one making the connection between dying forests and coal being shipped out of the state on a daily basis has this to say about it:

"I must also say, as I'm sure many already have, that it was absolutely delightful, energizing, and thrilling to discover that the arts have such subversive political potential that an installation can threaten the socioeconomic hegemony of the energy industry in Wyoming."

Meanwhile we came across this strange thing on Lake Hattie out in Big Hollow.

This is what a local Geologist has to say about it:

"Yup, them thangs is concretions. But they ain't made outa concrete! Nope, most probable they's from calcium carbonate concentrated in the mud on the bottom of the late Cretaceous ocean. But where's that ocean at? Damned if I know, maybe the sucker done dried itself up!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Carbon Stink

It appears that some legislators, who are strongly influenced by the Energy companies, who fund the university through their taxes paid to the state, are serious about cutting funding to the University of Wyoming. This really does smack of 1984 and Big Brother. Art and education are both poor and powerless and easy to whack on the head. But both art and education are about the power of communicating - knowledge, ideas, understanding. It is how we survive as a species we pass on wisdom down to the next generation who we hope will find better solutions than we have.

We are at a turning point here. There are protests going on throughout the world about building yet more coal fired power stations. The majority of our electric power comes from the burning of coal which is on the way to raising mean temperatures on the planet 2 degrees. This is, in itself unsustainable and puts all life at risk. But at the rate we are going temperatures will rise beyond this and the process of heating will accelerate: Floods, heatwaves, drought, famine, tornadoes, dying forests, loss of biodiversity etc etc. We can see it all happening now.

There are two things that need to happen;
1) More research into clean energy production and more (not less) funding for universities to do this research.
2) An ongoing debate on how we can give the people of the world the basics for a decent life, and
how we can consume less and take the strain off the biosphere. This is a conversation
that needs to happen at all levels of education and it needs to happen now.

No one is suggesting that we stop burning coal. That is not going to happen or the world as we know it, will grind to a halt. But we do need to find alternative clean energy solutions and fast.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Horses, Steers, Bulls, Cowboys 'n things

Trees convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. Whether you are an energy producer, a legislator, or a tree hugging liberal, everyone needs to breathe. While the blogosphere is alive with invective, Wyoming remains not just a place of mineral extraction, but wide open spaces, expansive skies, wildlife, cattle, horses, cowboys and the original first Americans.

Friday, July 22, 2011

University sculpture upsets Wyoming coal industry

So now the row has gone global. Here is the article by Suzanne Goldenberg for the Saturday Guardian on July 23rd

The sculpture was always going to be hard to ignore – a giant 36-foot whorl of silvery logs and lumps of black coal in front of the main campus building at the University of Wyoming.

But British artist Chris Drury thought his commentary on the connection between the coal industry and dead trees would merely generate some polite on-campus debate in Cheyenne.

Not anymore. Drury's work, Carbon Sink What Goes Around Comes Around, sits in the heart of coal country, Wyoming, which mines more coal than any other state in America.

The work's existence and the links it draws between coal, climate change, and the pine beetle infestation that is devastating the landscape of the Rocky Mountains, has set off a debate about artistic and academic freedom, with the mining industry and Republican state legislators expressing outrage that a university that got money from coal would dare to turn on it.

"I thought it was a fairly innocuous thing to do," said Drury . "But it's kind of upset a lot of people here. Perhaps it was slightly more obvious because it is slightly more crucial in this state. But this is a university so I expected to start a debate, not a row."

He said he got the idea from a conversation with a scientist who complained that nobody was drawing the connection between the daily coal shipments from Wyoming, and the pine beetle infestation that was killing the region's forests.

The beetles are endemic to the Rockies but with climate change the region no longer gets the plunging temperatures that used to kill them off. Milder winters have allowed the beetles to live on and eat their way through the Rockies, stripping the bark off lodgepole pines from Colorado to British Columbia.

Some of the logs used in the installation were still crawling with beetles.

But as Drury charts on his blog, his comment on the connections between that calamity and coal was too close to home. By day three of construction, the mining industry was accusing the university of ingratitude towards one of its main benefactors – in what some have seen as a veiled threat to cut funding.

"They get millions of dollars in royalties from oil, gas and coal to run the university, and then they put up a monument attacking me, demonising the industry," Marion Loomis, the director of the Wyoming Mining Association, told the Casper Star-Tribune. "I understand academic freedom, and we're very supportive of it, but it's still disappointing."

Then two Republican members of the Wyoming state legislature joined in, calling the work an insult to coal. The subject of university funding also came up.

"While I would never tinker with the University of Wyoming budget – I'm a great supporter of the University of Wyoming – every now and then, you have to use these opportunities to educate some of the folks at the University of Wyoming about where their paychecks come from," Tom Lubnau, one of the state legislators, told the Gillette News-Record.

The university said it was standing by Drury's work, although it was not necessarily endorsing his message.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Believe it or not the Dinosaurs eventually died out

Dinosaur museum, made from dinosaur bones, Near Medicine Bow, Wyoming

Coal-Themed Sculpture Annoys Lawmakers

Today Jim Robbins ran this article in the New York Times Green Blog:

And tomorrow it may well go global as the Guardian have asked to interview me. If the energy companies hadn't made such a fuss about an overblown headline in the Casper Star Tribune all this would have been small beer. As it is they are now making veiled threats to The University of Wyoming about who they should and should not employ and what art should or should not be on campus. Isn't there something in the constitution here about freedom of speech - particularly applicable in a University, I would have thought. All this has been rightly stressed by the UW president. Art is free to speak its truth, and in the case of Carbon Sink all I am trying to do is to make many and multiple complex connections in as striking and beautiful way as I am able.

Rupert Murdoch, because of his economic and media power, has for years shackled UK politicians with veiled threats of electoral defeat, only to 'come a cropper' himself - custard pied in fact. The only thing that will work here if forests are to be saved and a repeat of what happened to New Orleans be avoided, is a proper and open debate about how we produce and use energy in a semblance of sustainability.

Below is Jim Robbins article.

Some people in Wyoming, one of the country’s top energy-producing states, are not happy with a sculpture that has just been installed at the University of Wyoming that depicts a link between human-caused climate change and dead forests.

The installation, by the British artist Chris Drury, is called “Carbon Sink: What Goes Around Comes Around.” It is 36 feet in diameter, and at its center, it features logs from trees killed by beetles, surrounded by lumps of coal. Forests have been dying in large numbers across the West, and scientists say it is because the climate has warmed, reducing the frequency of the well-below-zero temperatures that kill insects that attack pine trees. Human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are a big reason things have gotten warmer, they say. Foremost among them is the burning of coal.

The sculpture and its message do not sit well with two state legislators from Campbell County, Wyoming, home to some of the largest coal mines in the country. In a letter to the University of Wyoming, Representatives Tom Lubnau and Gregg Blikre, both Republicans from Gillette, the energy capital of the Cowboy State, protested the installation of the sculpture.

“While I would never tinker with the University of Wyoming budget – I’m a great supporter of the University of Wyoming – every now and then you have to use these opportunities to educate some of the folks at the University of Wyoming about where their paychecks come from,” Representative Lubnau told a local newspaper, referring to taxes collected from coal and other energy industries. He did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Museum representatives say they support the expression of their artists. “There are no plans to uninstall it,” said Susan Moldenhauer, director of the University of Wyoming Art Museum. “Chris Drury makes connections within nature. He’s not a political artist in any way.”

Mr. Drury said he understood that the world needs energy but that he also grasped that humans are doing damage to meet that need. His work seeks in part to connect these two ideas. An article that appeared about his sculpture in The Casper Star Tribune made that point, he said. But the headline – “U.W. Sculpture Blasts Fossil Fuels” – was a misrepresentation, Mr. Drury said, and angered some people.

“I’m sympathetic that we all use fossil fuels,” he said. “But whole forests are dying in the Rockies, and it’s happening everywhere.”

“I’m not trying to shove it down everyone’s throat, but I hope people will have a conversation” because of the sculpture, he said.

The work, which cost about $45,000 and was financed by an anonymous donor and with money from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund, is intended to return to nature through decay and will probably be gone in 5 to 20 years, Mr. Drury said.

Representatives Lubnau and Blikre have suggested that a sculpture of energy workers be built on campus.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Day 7 Carbon Sink

We are done.

Sadly however the controversy is if anything heating up. I would call it petty politics and I haven't read anymore, but The Gillette News Record ran an article in the same vein, which spread to Montana and legislators are asking questions. The President of UW was interviewed on radio and said something like Art should be free to say what it likes - again I am going on hearsay.
However people in favour of what this work might imply are coming out of the woodwork and Jim Robbins will have an article in the New York Times on Thursday, which I think will be a voice for the forests. Others too want to talk about the art, so watch his space. As for me, I am very happy with the work.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Day 6, Carbon Sink

Over the weekend a pipe in the sprinkler system broke and the sculpture was flooded, but nothing floated away and work continued today.

More rubbish from newspapers trying to stir it. They ignore everything of interest which you tell them and print only what they think is sensational. Here are a couple of email comments to me from friends:

Looks like a wonderful piece. It's tough to take the spiral form and do something genuinely new with it, but I think you've succeeded. And the brouhaha around it is both unexpected but maybe sadly predictable, no?

Very, very interesting to see this work of yours, and what it's prompting; its own outwhirling vortex of implications, then. Importantly, too, it *looks* astonishing.

I have had quite a bit to do with coal in the past. I once did a project in Nottingham Forest and asked to go down the coal mines which are underneath it - the ancient petrified forests. A mile and a half underground - an hour getting to the coal face - the heat, the dust, the noise, the collapsed passageways, the wheezing lungs of pneumoconiosis, and the ghost story's the miners tell you; thousands of tons of coal mined with peoples lives, all to feed one power station which feeds the national grid at peak times like Christmas and 6.00 pm when everyone is home from work with a cup of tea and Neighbours on the TV.
Thatcher did for the miners, broke the unions by using cheap North Sea oil and gas and fought them in the pitched battle at Orgreave, between mounted policemen and miners with clubs and iron bars.

Then there was the project I did in Rebecca Hossacks gallery in the Crypt of St James church, Piccadilly. I installed Coal Chamber, an igloo of coal in the white pristine basement: something dark as a reminder that religion is not necessarily all sweetness and light, and that humans have a dark side. We opened the show, but the church took exception to it and shoveled it out the following day. The coal was donated by British Coal but sadly it wasn't even British as the politicians had put paid to that, it had come all the way from Columbia.

Tomorrow we will fill in the remaining seams between the logs with the black and beautiful coal of Wyoming.

Big Hollow and the Mountains from the Observatory

We are standing on granite, the top of a small forested mountain with an Observatory at the top, where there is a barbecue going on. Storms come and go and the wind is strong. Apart from the mountains in the distance, everything was once covered in volcanic ash from Nevada - up to the height of this mountain - time has compressed some of it into a sandstone, the rest has been scoured away by the wind, including what is referred to as Big Hollow. It is probable that Bison started the erosion by scraping hollows, which were gradually enlarged by the relentless winds.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Full Moon over Big Hollow by iphone

In the Evening three of us, Susan Moldenhauer, the director of UW Art Museum, Nicole Ballenger and myself drive out to Centenial for a meal. It is a glorious evening and on the way home we see Pronghorn, Mule Deer, and two elk, as well as herds of horses. As we approach Laramie a huge full moon rises over Big Hollow. This remarkable depression in the plain, 11 miles long was scooped out by the jet stream coming down to earth and scouring the land.

Day 4 Carbon Sink

I have four excellent helpers, all preparators at the Museum. They are Stoney, Connor, Felicia and David. The work is going really fast, but today, after the big thunderstorm last night, it was very hot with clear blue skies.
It turns out the beetle on Connors T- shirt was a kind which takes over after the bark and the pine beetle are gone, it eats the destructive fungii, brought in by the pine beetle. Never-the-less the powers that be have decreed that the logs must be sprayed for pine beetle.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day 3 Carbon Sink

Well, yesterday I did a phone interview with a journalist from the Star Tribune. The article was on the front page this morning and it seems the s**t has hit the fan.But let me just clear one thing up first; the beetle crawling on Connors T-shirt was not apparently a pine bark beetle. They need bark and there is none on the logs. Well here is the article, apart from the inflamatory headline it seems quite balanced.

University of Wyoming sculpture blasts fossil fuels

By JEREMY PELZER Star-Tribune capital bureau | Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 6:00 am | (14) Comments

Courtesy University of Wyoming

Artist Chris Drury constructs his sculpture titled 'Carbon Sink' south of Old Main on the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie on Tuesday afternoon.


For the next three weeks, British artist Chris Drury will be constructing an outdoor sculpture at the University of Wyoming that connects the burning of fossil fuels to the region’s devastating mountain pine beetle epidemic.

It’s a message that doesn’t sit well with Wyoming’s mineral industry, which dominates the state’s economy and has given millions to the university.

The sculpture, titled “Carbon Sink,” will consist of a flat whirlpool of beetle-killed logs spiraling into a vortex of charred, black wood and studded with large lumps of Wyoming coal. Thirty-six feet in diameter, it will be just south of Old Main, near the intersection of 10th Street and Ivinson Avenue.

The work will be the latest entry in the UW Art Museum’s ongoing exhibition of large-scale sculptures around campus and throughout Laramie.

Like the other exhibition entries, “Carbon Sink” is only expected to last for a few years, until the wind and elements weather it down.

UW Art Museum Director Susan Molderhauer said the total cost for Drury’s sculpture and a second sculpture by a different artist was $75,000.

The sculpture is funded in part by a public grant through the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund, she said. The remainder of the cost is being paid by a private donor.

Molderhauer said she’s been trying to bring Drury to Laramie since 2008, when the museum first launched its outdoor sculpture exhibition.

The sculpture was reviewed by UW’s art committee and approved by UW President Tom Buchanan, said university spokesman Jim Kearns.

Drury, a “land artist” who for 36 years has built sculptures in America and Europe using local materials and the local landscape, said he got the idea for “Carbon Sink” when he visited Laramie in November.

Talking with UW faculty and students, Drury said he learned about how during the past decade or so, mountain pine beetles have infested and killed more than 100 million acres of forest in Wyoming and other mountain states with no effective large-scale way to stop them.

Most scientists believe the dramatic increase in the number of beetles has been caused by warming temperatures and drought. In turn, most of the scientific community believes those trends are primarily human-caused, in large part because burning coal, oil and gas releases carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.

“I just wanted to make that connection between the burning of coal and the dying of trees,” Drury said. “But I also wanted to make a very beautiful object that pulls you in, as it were.”

But Drury’s message could prove controversial in Wyoming, which produces more coal than any other state and is heavily reliant economically on fossil fuel extraction.

Last year, several major UW donors threatened to withhold millions in promised donations after the university invited 1960s radical-turned-academic Bill Ayers to speak on campus. UW banned Ayers from speaking, citing threats of violence, but a federal judge forced the school to allow him to deliver a lecture on education theory.

Marion Loomis, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, said it’s “really disappointing” that UW decided to build the sculpture. He pointed out that the mining industry has “been a stalwart supporter” of the university for years, giving the school millions of dollars in donations for projects such as the new School of Energy Resources.

“They get millions of dollars in royalties from oil, gas and coal to run the university, and then they put up a monument attacking me, demonizing the industry,” Loomis said. “I understand academic freedom, and we’re very supportive of it, but it’s still disappointing.”

Loomis said it’s “hard to tell” whether the sculpture would affect the mining industry’s donations to UW in the future.

“I’ll have to see what it looks like, I guess,” he said. “And maybe they’ll put up a sculpture commending the affordable, reliable electricity that comes from coal on the other end of Prexy’s Pasture.”

Kearns said UW officials had no comment on potential controversy over the project.

comment tread on:

So first of all I am not attacking anyone, least of all the energy companies. I use as much oil, gas and electricity as anyone else in the Western world. My Carbon footprint is probably off the scale as I travel around the globe by plane. I come from the first industrial country, whose industrial revolution was based on the burning of coal, and much of our energy still comes from that source. So far be it for me to preach what we should and should not do.

However the science is abundantly clear on the fact that our actions are altering the climate and whole mountain ranges of dying forests are a visual reminder that things are not good and if nothing else, we need to have a conversation about it. The energy company might give the University of Wyoming millions of dollars, and in return they will get accurate unbiased science, often in their favour. But I presume that the gift of this money doesn't mean they dictate what the University does nor will it be used to stifle a debate that needs to be aired, because it is the future of our children and grandchildren that is at stake here as well as the entire biosphere. I don't have answers, but the questions need to be asked.

But really this was never intended to be a didactic sculpture, it is far more than the sum of its parts - coal and trees. It takes the form of a universal energy found in both the microcosm (e.g.flow of blood in the heart) to the macrocosm (formation of galaxies). It means that we are part of something much bigger than us, and it will be here long after man is just a fossil record.

Day 2, Wyoming

We put in the first curving line of logs and the centre of the vortex, pinning them in place with re bar. There was talk of creating a bonfire over the top to char the logs, but there is concern from the authorities so, we will revert to plan B which was to use a propane burner, which will work well as the logs are very dry. Beetle are still coming out of them!

The coal has also been delivered and there are some beautiful large lumps. It is mined in open pits and the seam is 200' deep with very little sulphur, as the forest swamp in which it formed was fresh water. Tomorrow we will try and char the centre, weather permitting - There have been quite a number of thunder storms coming through and they are not done yet.

At the back of my mind I am still thinking of a cloud chamber sited near the museum, put underground, but projecting the wide expanse of sky, which in Wyoming is always mind blowing.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Laramie - day 1

Just looking at the map makes your heart sing:
The Wind River Range
Bear Lodge Mountains
Medicine Bow
Bridger Teton
The Platte and The Big Horn rivers

Laramie is at 7500 ' and the last time I came here for 3 days in November, I flew in to Denver from Sussex at sea level, then on to Laramie by bus where I suffered altitude sickness with hammering headaches and vomiting. Someone here who uses goats as pack animals high in the mountains, says that when the goats go high they chew on Yarrow. So I have been adding tincture of Yarrow to my water bottle and touch wood, it seems to be working.

Today we made a start and the site is perfect for the piece.