Ignite! The Art of Sustainability

Telling the Story

by Kate Davies, Curator, Ignite! The Art of Sustainability

 Ignite! was not only an opportunity to do what I love but also was a chance to reach a diverse audience throughout California with the story of sustainability.

Through the beauty and inspiration of art together with the art of storytelling the goal was to provide the audience with a sense of place and an understanding of California’s long history, both social and natural that led to current ecological challenges in the places we live.

I needed artists who did more than depict nature or work conceptually. What I found were eleven artists who deeply rooted themselves in the story and act of sustainability. And to my delight much, much more.

As I sat down today to write this blog the wind is blasting outside at about 40 mph and I watched birds flying in the sky navigating their way.  Today however, I see for the first time that their flight technique is slightly different than on a calm day. I thought I should add ‘obviously’, but realized their comings and goings are hardly obvious to us in the rush of modern life.

The Ignite! artists possess this ability. They have a vision and passion for noticing nature deeply coupled with an amazing grasp of California’s historical relationship with the landscape.

Judith Lowry shares elder’s ancient tales of natural disasters, Kim Stringfellow tells a contemporary story of water use and golf, Luke Matjas frenzied scenes of life colliding with the landscape reference an 18th century understanding of nature, Linda MacDonald discovers in the Murrelet egg an epic saga of redemption, and Penelope Gottlieb’s beautiful Audubon scenes are turned into tales of classic misunderstanding.

The artists are in fact part researchers, anthropologists, activists and for some, remediators.

Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison’s epic 50- year restoration project is intellectually rigorous and in situ practical as they collaborate with scientists and communities in the Sierras. Daniel McCormick’s artwork also created by working closely with scientists literally grows into the landscape to heal Marin streambeds. Robert Dawson’s photographs chronicle the human story of how activism has changed. Ann Savageau created a storybook of the ghosts: California’s extinct species. Sant Khalsa poetically documents her 20- year love affair with a river. And Kim Abeles uses smog outside her Downtown studio to make art.

All grand storytellers. Through their lives and their artworks they tell the story of place in human and natural terms. And as great, true storytellers always do they impart wisdom to us in ways that inspire us in our daily lives. Through their work they ask us to consider place, to embrace nature on its own terms and to perhaps come to understand what it is to live sustainably in the context of where we’ve been and were we are going.

Contemporary art after all has been said to be about the stories of our time and what bigger story is there than our sense of place, the ecology of place where we live?

If we hope to truly build sustainable lives and places, I believe that we must do this: tell the story of sustainability in a compelling way in our communities every chance we get.

Story has the capacity to connect us to place and to each other and as Ignite! travels California to both rural and urban places this is my hope for the coming years.