2015 Thinking the Earth
2016 Atmospheres
2017 What Fire Does
2018 Water’s Edge

Earth, Itself

Art/Science Collaborations | 2015-18

Each year, the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society sponsors an interdisciplinary program under the title of “Earth, Itself,” designed to stimulate conversations and collaborations across the natural and social sciences, humanities and the arts.

The Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES) is concerned centrally with the challenges facing us in ensuring sustainable life. Earth, Itself is an integrative program of the humanities, natural and social sciences, and creative arts, designed to further conversation about the environment in innovative, engaging, and inclusive ways.

The aim is to highlight ways of understanding Earth, environmental change, knowledge systems, and policy, to address some of the most complex problems of our time. The program cuts across the key interests of IBES faculty and their collaborators, and is directed by Lenore Manderson.

Photo: Nikki CarraraPhoto: Nikki CarraraThinking the Earth was the first signature event, held April 23-24, 2015, and brought together researchers working on earth and its uses, on ontologies and epistemologies of land, and of stewardship. Across the panels, participants considered the complex ways in which people understand earth and human relationships to land and its resources, as expressed and enacted through local ideologies and global policies and practices.

The opening keynote lecture was from Dan Nepstad, Executive Director and Senior Scientist of the Earth Innovation Institute, a research, policy and outreach organization that supports sustainable development in Brazil, Indonesia, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Kenya. A second keynote lecture was delivered by researcher and hula dancer Kekuhi Keali‘ikanaka‘oleohaililani, who works on Indigenous GIS for sustainability goals, and leads various programs for Native Hawaiian cultural preservation and education. Participants included scholars from history, literature, anthropology, geography, natural science, and creative arts concerned with the environment, climate change, knowledge systems, and social engagement. We also hosted a poster competition.

The art practice coupled with this program was dance, with Shura Baryshnikov, Teaching Associate in the Department of Theatre, Arts and Performance Studies at Brown, working with other Contact Improvisation dancers from the US and Canada. The primary performance, Aftershock: sampling impact, used wet clay on the wooden floor of the Ashamu Dance Studio, allowing dancers to imprint their weight through dance.

Atmospheres was held from April 28-30, 2016, and focused on air, climate, and the environment. Under this theme, participants and programs explored atmospheric circulation and weather; air as habitat—insects and birds; and air pollution and quality of air. The keynote speaker was Kenyan ornithologist Mwangi Githiru, who is Director of Biodiversity and Social Monitoring at Wildlife Works, leading teams assessing environmental and social impacts of REDD+ in African settings and beyond. The program also included a performance from actor/theater maker Wendy Woodson (Amherst), and acoustic ecologists and musicians Leah Barclay, Lawrence English, and Garth Paine, who all participated in panels and in a concert on the final night. The art program—of sound art, installation, music—coordinated by Brown sound artist, Associate Professor Ed Osborn, incorporated several student acoustic installations in the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, and a sound installation by Jim Moses of the Music Department in the greenhouse on the top floor of the IBES building. In addition, there was an early morning guided bird walk, a film night on the environment, and a poster competition and Ignite! speaking competition showcasing the research of Brown students and staff.

What Fire Does will be held primarily from April 18-28, 2017, and will focus on the productive, creative, destructive, and transformative powers of fire. The creative arts are the ‘fire arts’—particularly ceramics and glass—with exhibitions and performances conducted in collaboration with RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). The keynote speaker will be Stephen Pyne (Arizona State University). Academic panels, lectures and symposia, to be held across departments, will include the unintended consequences of fire fighting and soil contamination; fire on ice—the role of fire in early human migration and settlement in the Paleolithic period; and, in collaboration with the John Carter Brown Library, an afternoon panel on the Americas and the generative power of fire. Brown students will be composing pieces for the 2017 WaterFire festival, with its premiere at 2017 Commencement (May 28). We are collaborating again with Magic Lantern for an evening of Films on Fire, and we will be hosting poster and Ignite! competitions.

In 2018, the program will address the fourth element, Water, with events through April and May hosted both at Brown University and at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. By moving to two continents, we will take advantage of a number of new collaborations and address multiple questions of climate change and the environment. These will include drought, flood, sea rise, and the precarity of seashore settlement and ocean states, but we will also look at water rights, water in agriculture and manufacturing, and riverine and marine life. We will be holding a major conference on water and governance in association with the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. The arts will focus on text, the spoken word, and theatre. It will include an installation on migration across oceans of birds, marine life and humans, in collaboration with RISD. Again, we will collaborate with the WaterFire festival, present a film program, and run poster and Ignite! competitions.

Part of the academic program is held in the John Carter Brown Library, taking advantage of the concurrent exhibition on ‘Exploring the Four Elements’. In 2015 the library held an exhibition entitled Subterranean Worlds: Under the Earth in the Early Americas, showcasing library material on the quest for metals in the colonial Americas. In 2016, the library exhibition, Air America, illustrated the multiple and resonant meanings of air to the history of the Americas, and in 2017, the library will exhibit a range of works on fire in the Americas. The 2018 exhibition will be on water.

2015 Thinking the Earth
2016 Atmospheres
2017 What Fire Does
2018 Water’s Edge

Each year, the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society sponsors an interdisciplinary program under the title of “Earth, Itself,” designed to stimulate conversations and collaborations across the natural and social sciences, humanities and the arts.

What Fire Does will be held primarily from April 18-28, 2017, and will focus on the productive, creative, destructive, and transformative powers of fire. The creative arts are the ‘fire arts’—particularly ceramics and glass—with exhibitions and performances conducted in collaboration with RISD (Rhode Island School of Design).

The keynote speakers will be Stephen J. Pyne (Arizona State University) and Pamela H. Smith (Columbia University).

Academic panels, lectures and symposia, to be held across departments, will include the unintended consequences of fire fighting and soil contamination; fire on ice—the role of fire in early human migration and settlement in the Paleolithic period; and, in collaboration with the John Carter Brown Library, an afternoon panel on the Americas and the generative power of fire. Brown students will be composing pieces for the 2017 WaterFire festival, with its premiere at 2017 Commencement (May 27).

We are collaborating again with Magic Lantern for an evening of Films on Fire, and we will be hosting a poster competition.

The program is open to students and faculty, policy makers, community members, and others who care about the environment.

April 18-28, 2017

Each year, the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society sponsors an interdisciplinary program under the title of “Earth, Itself,” designed to stimulate conversations and collaborations across the natural and social sciences, humanities and the arts.

On April 28-30, 2016, we present Atmospheres, on air, climate and the environment. We will explore such topics as atmospheric circulation and weather; air as habitat—insects and birds; air pollution and quality of air; and legislating, governing and controlling air.

The arts practice, curated by Brown scholar and artist Ed Osborn, includes sound art, installations, and music, involving both visiting artists and Brown students.

Concurrently, the John Carter Brown Library will mount an exhibition on air and climate in the early modern world, part of its four-year series on The Four Elements that explores new ways of engaging—through environmental history—with its renowned collection of books, maps, and prints.

Presenters include Kenyan Dr Mwangi Githiru, an ornithologist and Director of Biodiversity and Social Monitoring at Wildlife Works, Kenya; Michael J. Hathaway (University of British Columbia), author of Environmental Winds; Cymene Howe (Rice University), who works on the politics of wind in Oaxaca; sound artists and acoustic ecologists Leah Barclay (Griffith University, Australia), Lawrence English (Australia), and Garth Paine (Arizona State University); Bina Venkataraman, Director, Global Policy Initiatives, Broad Institute; Tongzhang Zheng, Center for Environmental Health and Technology at Brown; Scott Turner, Director of Web Communications at Brown, and weekly nature commentator for the Providence Journal; and Wendy Woodson, Professor of Theatre and Dance at Amherst College.

The activities will include sound and theatre performances, an Ignite! program, and, as last year, a poster competition.

The program is open to students and faculty, policy makers, community members, and others who care about the environment, and thrive on scientific discovery, debate, controversy and sound.

April 28-30, 2016

 


2016

On April 23rd and 24th, the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society convened a national and international group of scholars, policy-makers, and performance artists as participants in its inaugural signature event, Thinking the Earth. This interdisciplinary conference, conceived and organized by IBES Fellow and Visiting Distinguished Professor Lenore Manderson, included two keynote lectures, three panel discussions, a research poster session hosted by students and faculty, a dance performance, and post-performance dialogue, workshop, and community jam. Thinking the Earth fostered intellectually charged discourse across disciplines and stimulated leading thinkers and artists to approach pressing social and environmental challenges in novel and profound ways.

The Institute welcomed event attendees with an ample exhibition of more than two dozen scholarly posters. Students, postdoctoral associates, and faculty bookended the evening’s first sessions with presentations of their research from such diverse areas as ecology, earth science, public health, economics, and pathology. IBES postdoc Sarah Ivory received a prize for her exploration of the climate histories of African mountain forests, while Environmental Studies concentrator Alexis Durand was awarded the student prize for her investigation of the effects of the 2014 West Virginia chemical spill on local prison populations.

IBES fellow Geri Augusto, Visiting Associate Professor of Africana Studies, launched the afternoon’s dialogue as moderator of Ways of Knowing, a panel discussion which explored the various approaches people take to understanding their environment. Hannah Freed-Thall, Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, broadened the conversation with her juxtaposition of Proust’s tools of fiction with scientific, factual “flatness of knowledge.” Michael D. Kennedy, Professor of Sociology, also described ways to enhance scientific understanding, as well as to inform policy. His remarks emphasized the necessity of exploring kinesthetic knowledge that comes from different ways of valuing the land.

Keisha-Khan Y. Perry, Associate Professor of Africana Studies, later discussed this land valuation among women of color in Brazil, primarily with regard to the difficulties they face in obtaining access to water, while Sarah Vaughn, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago, described the adapting, evolving relationship between women in coastal Guyana and their environment in the face of a changing climate.

Indeed, climate change consistently emerged at the forefront of almost every discussion. Keynote speaker Dan Nepstad, Executive Director and founding President of Earth Innovation Institute, drew his remarks from more than 30 years of experience examining climate change policies and land use in the Amazon rainforest. Nepstad’s lecture explored the necessity of compromise between environmental organizations, large industries, and governments in order to secure a more sustainable future. Though such a strategy may seem counterintuitive, the fallout from industrial development often provides a stage upon which to advocate for continued sustainability initiatives.

In addition to being industrially and federally viable, however, appropriate strategies for combating climate change must also take into account the culture and preferences of a land’s people. In the panel discussion Sustainability and Development, chaired by Richard Locke, IBES fellow and Director of the Watson Institute for International Studies and hosted at the historic John Carter Brown Library by IBES Fellow and library director Neil Safier, panelists examined the costs of development and need for customized local solutions. Shannon McNeeley, research scientist with the North Central Climate Science Center and affiliated faculty at Colorado State University, discussed the complexities of climate change adaptation for American Indian populations in light of regulations surrounding reservation land. McNeeley also stressed the importance of respecting stated wishes rather than perceived needs, a sentiment that was echoed by Elisabeth Huber-Sannwald, Associate Professor at the Instituto Potosino de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Huber-Sannwald focused her remarks on the importance of upholding traditional schemes of knowledge and engaging younger generations in envisioning a more sustainable future.

Although environmentally sensitive solutions are now within reach in many parts of the world, unchecked industrial power continues to have wreak havoc on the planet’s ecosystems. To this end, David Bond, a cultural anthropologist at Bennington College, explored the ways that humankind can learn from environmental catastrophes such as crude oil spills. “We often think of oil as a commodity that occasionally causes disasters,” quipped Bond, “but perhaps it is more accurate to think of oil as a disaster that occasionally causes commodities.” Later, Ted Melillo, Associate Professor of History and Environmental Studies at Amherst College, spoke of the complexities in defining the term anthropocene, a difficult concept loaded with a volatile combination of high stakes and culpability. Undoubtedly, words are powerful entities – and according to keynote speaker Kekuhi Keali’Ikanaka’Oleohaililani, the natural environment will also benefit if humans reconsider their relationship to other, seemingly innocuous, terms.

Keali’Ikanaka’Oleohaililani, founder of the Edith Kanaka’Ole Foundation, set the tone for her address with a traditional welcome dance, a hula embodied by intentional movement and evocative, primal chanting. After coaching her audience through the creation of an original, venue-inspired series of motions, Keali’Ikanaka’Oleohaililani described a series of traditional Hawai’Ian terms and gestures called Kinolau, a kinesthetic and linguistic scheme that emphasizes the oneness between what is spoken and what is spoken about. “There is no division between my lehua [Kinolau for a seed or embryo that springs forth] and the tree’s lehua,” she explained. “It’s the same flower. Every time we recreate this movement in dance, we also recreate the potential of a forest.” In Keali’Ikanaka’Oleohaililani’s view, Kinolau is only one way of entering the discussion about sustainability, but one that reveals a reverence for nature that is at once ancient and avant-garde.

Such reliance on traditional ways of knowing and environmental stewardship championed throughout the sessions of Thinking the Earth seem to herald a hopeful future. In The Way Forward, a panel discussion moderated by Amanda Lynch, IBES Director and Professor of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences, participants drew inspiration from examples of community-led sustainability projects. Sandy Smith-Nonini, an anthropologist and activist based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, highlighted the enormous power of social movements in driving change, while Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, recounted successful forms of community engagement, such as a landmark cleanup of Lake Champlain and restoration of a local brownfield.

Nonini and Spalding joined Terhi Rasilo, a postdoctoral researcher at the Université du Québec à Montréal, in calling for a new paradigm. According to the panelists, researchers must curb their reliance on the predictive power of science in the face of such unprecedented environmental changes. Meanwhile, Ian Garrett, co-founder of the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts and Assistant Professor of Sustainability and Design at York University, took the long view. Within 10-15 years, he predicts that sustainable business practices such as collective energy use will begin to be adopted by facilities outside of the arts sector.

Garrett was not the only participant to demonstrate that conversations about human impact are alive and well in the creative disciplines. Artistic expressions of kinesthetic knowledge were peppered throughout Thinking the Earth‘s academic sessions in the form of contact improvisation, a style of dance that requires movement artists to attend and adapt to choices made by their fellow performers. The dance project Aftershock: sampling impact debuted to a sold-out crowd and earned glowing reviews. A stimulating talk-back investigating the processes of research, inquiry, and choice was moderated by Katie Pearl, Aftershock dramaturg, along with Shura Baryshnikov, dance program convenor, and Kellie Rae Adams, ceramicist.

During Aftershock, Adams’ clay floor had provided a completely blank canvas that was initially avoided, as dancers carefully and tentatively skirted its edges. By the end of the performance, however, boundaries had been cast aside and the clay was spattered with indelible traces of the performers’ presence. Adams’ work offered the audience a powerful metaphor, likening movement and communication to industrial and agricultural development and the power of human action.

Through the collective effort of academics, researchers, policy-makers, artists, and a dedicated Working Group, Thinking the Earth painted a picture of a rich and varied global society with diverse needs and ways of understanding their world. Despite the many challenges that lie ahead, many participants and attendees came away from the event with a renewed hope that communities who gather together in a spirit of openness and cooperation can find the way forward. If Thinking the Earth is any indication, global engagement, tireless effort, and a hefty spirit of mutual respect will grant humans the capacity to transform true sustainability from an academic talking point into concrete reality.

April 23-24, 2015

Thinking The Earth engages students, scholars, and artists in novel interdisciplinary conversations

In 2018, the Earth, Itself program will address the fourth element, Water, with events through April and May hosted both at Brown University and at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. By moving to two continents, we will take advantage of a number of new collaborations and address multiple questions of climate change and the environment.

These will include drought, flood, sea rise, and the precarity of seashore settlement and ocean states. The program will also give focus to water rights, water in agriculture and manufacturing, and riverine and marine life. The program will be holding a major conference on water and governance in association with the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. The arts programming will be grounded in text, the spoken word, and theatre. Amongst other works this will include an installation on migration across oceans of birds, marine life and humans, in collaboration with RISD. Again, Earth, Itself will collaborate with the WaterFire festival, present a film program, and run poster and Ignite! competitions.

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