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Dialogues with Mother Earth: A Journey Through Time and Space

Erica Daborn

An interactive installation that provokes reflection on the relationship between our 21st century societal values and the ways in which they have contributed to the degradation of our environment. Using an immersive form of installation and theater, the project directs the audience's response to climate issues through a comparison of ancient and modern information technologies. Central to the production is a series of mural-sized narrative drawings that record fictitious historical events related to climate change.

Details

OVERVIEW  

This project has been created in response to accelerating and irrefutable evidence of climate change. It is aimed specifically towards young people, as they are the ones about to inherit a global disaster. Using an immersive form of installation and theater, the project directs the audience's response to climate issues through a comparison of ancient and modern information technologies.  Central to the production is a series of ten mural-sized narrative drawings in charcoal that record fictitious historical events related to climate change and appear to have been drawn directly on the walls. 

THE ACTION

Year 2051: the action places the audience in the sensory overload of a futuristic multi-image media room where they learn that a series of strange drawings has been recently discovered in a derelict building. TV crews are not allowed in to film the discovery but this "selected" audience is going to have access.  Leaving the intensity of the media room, they crawl slowly through a long, low tunnel wearing protective coveralls and headlamps, gradually reconnecting with a slower and more contemplative mindset. Entering a series of rooms covered in murals, a Werner Herzog style narrator poses speculative questions about the images, evoking deep reflection. Who did these?  Why? How did they get here? Listening to him, as they scan the walls, the group learns how previous decades of disregard for the ecosystem outstripped the planet's resources to the point of no return; and that society's focus on profit and growth, rather than interconnectedness, led to famine, conflict, and death.   

HOW IT WORKS TO RAISE AWARENESS

Through a combination of theatre and visual art rather than scientific information viewers are challenged to examine the deeper causes of climate change. The project engages viewers both intellectually and experientially, by first jettisoning them into a fast-paced technologically dominant environment (THE FUTURE), then forcing a slow crawl back into a quiet, cave-like space (THE PAST). The FUTURE -- a sensory overload Media Room -- reduces the ability to think or respond intelligently due to a profusion of images and overlapping, loud voices, a case of "Too Much Information".  The PAST provides physical engagement with the environment through restricted movement and limited light source while simultaneously offering primitive static images that play on intuition and history. Finally a resting place in a pleasant low light quiet room, the silence only broken by occasional animal and bird cries (THE PRESENT) provides viewers with an opportunity to offer their own thoughts provoked by the experience in the form of letters to "Mother Earth".

WHAT WILL BE THE IMPACT?

The project will raise awareness and offer opportunity for reflection to a concerned public.  A non-art venue such as a derelict building in a city center would provide an ambience of mystery and surprise, though an art museum or university could offer essential in-kind financial support. I anticipate the installation functioning as a fulcrum around which scientific and related events can be programmed. The elements of entertainment in the project - the suiting up, the tunnel to the cave -- will provide a circus- like atmosphere, appealing to a broad audience, and especially young people. As it travels on to other cities, the ancillary events will expand and change according to local interests.

WHO IS THE AUDIENCE?

The murals explore, in a non-alarmist, story-book manner, those aspects of contemporary living that have impacted the environment including consumerism, depletion of natural resources, the ravages of the meat industry, disposable plastics, etc.  Because the project is experiential (as opposed to an Al Gore-style lecture) it aims to reach beyond the converted to a broader audience including one that has been resistant to the subject. It also offers a teaching tool for schools and colleges. The intention is to encourage people who have not thought much about theses issues to recognize, to take action and to prepare for the global crisis that is looming.

THE COMPONENTS

The Murals

Eight of the ten murals have been completed. Each depicts a fictitious event from 55 years earlier.

In "Funeral for the Last Elephant" we see a somber procession of animals and grieving people along side a bier supporting a dead elephant, the very last on the planet. There is a confusing air of celebration and solemnity. The public is out for an "event" - but did they have real understanding of the significance ?  How many "last" species had already disappeared. Why a ritual for this one?

In "Seeking Higher Ground"  the whole canvas is water in which people up to their necks struggle against the rising tide, each salvaging an object.  To one side a floating raft contains a group of disengaged partying onlookers. Why were they not helping? Was it not their problem too? One onlooker was photographing the action - perhaps for posting on Facebook: "Hey look I was there."  But she wasn't  really there. Did our obsession with shopping and material accumulation immure us to the fact that we had completely exhausted vital resources? What should we have saved?

"The Murder of Mystery" examines our fear of the unknown and the inexplicable. We so easily dismissed anything that could not be scientifically proven and in doing so severed intuitive connections that had historically kept us in close relationship to the natural world. Societies that believed in tree spirits nurtured their trees, those that worshiped mountains as gods didn't rape them for coal.

In "Ahab's Revenge" we see a beached whale entangled in plastic detritus. In the foreground a family makes sandcastles and plays with a beach ball as if this were the most normal backdrop for their vacation. They are unconcerned, it's not their problem.  Although, through the internet, we knew of floating continents of plastic, we went on buying bottled water. 

"Oprah and Noah Save the Animals" Here a group of zealous nature lovers are doing their best to rescue animals from perceived imminent annihilation. Why did we wait for celebrities to lead on so many important issues?  Or expect religious belief to fix the problem? 

In "The Appeal" a group of desperate middle class people beg animals to give them food. Having mistreated and devalued the animals' lives when it suited them they now expect to be saved.  Why did things get so desperate? The meat industry was both inefficient at providing food for a hungry world, and highly polluting of the environment.  But for the developing world, meat offered status.

In "S.O.S." (Save Our Seeds) an international band of activists sail to an unknown destination in a desperate attempt to protect the plant species of the world from genetic modification.

In "Tipping Point" three schoolgirls watch incredulously as dogs, rats and birds scavenge a huge pile of food waste. Why did we tolerate this excess while so many starved?

The Space

THE ARTIST

Erica was born in England and received her MFA from the Royal, College of Art, London. She moved to the U.S. in 1984 and permanently to Mexico in 2015.  From 1995 to 2015 Erica taught drawing full-time at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  The murals from the project received overwhelmingly positive response from an international audience when exhibited as "Diálogos con la Madre Tierra" at Centro Cultural El Nigromante Bellas Artes in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in 2017. In 2016  "Dialogues With Mother Earth:The Murals" provided a forum for conversation between faculties at Clark University, Worcester, MA.

Erica thanks her husband, documentary film-maker Dennis Lanson for his ongoing help with the project.

"Dialogues With Mother Earth:A Journey Through Time and Space" has received generous support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Berkshire Taconic Foundation and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation.

INTERVIEW

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