Voices of EARTH & OCEAN

This series of interviews presents the Earth & Ocean Arts Festival, September 20-22, through the eyes of the participating artists, performers and environmental advocates.

Lynn Neuman, Creative Director for the New York based Artichoke Dance Company, will perform at the festival with six company members. They are art activists raising environmental awareness and forging positive change through performance art.

1)  Please tell us about your dance background, when you began dancing, what has influenced and inspired you to pursue dancing as a career.

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I began dancing at age 16, late for a female, but was a competitive gymnast into my teens, so already possessed a high degree of physical coordination and strength. A need to move and express myself physically drove me to dance as a career; I really didn’t have a choice. I process information better when I’m moving, so often in meetings, at conferences, or even when I’m reading, I’m moving around. When I was growing up there was no ADHD diagnosis, and thank goodness. I probably would’ve been medicated and ended up behind a microscope, not that that’s a bad thing to do.  We certainly need scientific researchers, but we often self select into what we excel at, and for me this was movement.

An early influence was seeing Hubbard Street Dance Company, based in Chicago, as a teenager. I grew up in a small town in Michigan without access to much diversity in dance. The only professional dance I’d previously seen was ballet, where uniformity reigns. Two women in Hubbard Street, Kitty Skillman and Ginger Farley, were diametrically opposite and I found this fascinating. Kitty was tiny and compact and Ginger was tall and lanky. I loved that contrast and it has always stuck with me and affects my hiring choices as a choreographer.

2)  When was the Artichoke Dance Company founded.  What led you to use performance art to raise awareness about pollution and it's environmental impact?

Artichoke Dance Company gave its first concert in 1995 as a collective of dancers who also wanted to create work. We put on a show, then another and another. Through attrition, I ended up with the company and then reframed it to focus on environmental issues. My first focus was plastic pollution and this is because I simply started to notice how much litter was on the ground and that most of it was plastic. I had adopted an older dog that scavenged on the street and she really led to this noticing. (I tell the story of this transformation in a talk I gave at a conference: https://youtu.be/n6ptvaaGpBA)

I’ve been going down a rabbit hole of research ever since which has brought me to focus on specific materials, such as plastic bags, for art making and for political action. (I was part of a coalition working for several years to pass plastic bag legislation in New York; a bill was recently passed banning bags.) It’s also led me to work in specific environments, such as the Los Angeles River and the Gowanus Canal, both undergoing revitalizations, which bring with them a host of political, social and economic issues. Ultimately, at this point anyway, this work has led me to understand the interrelatedness of everything and how each and every action we take, or choose not to take, has an impact one way or another. In a society that has developed to hold the self as uber important, reframing to focus on the whole is critical. I’m now trying to shift the conversation from me to we using a lens of environmental justice. 

3)  How has the public responded to the work of Artichoke?

There are all sorts of responses. Since we also rehearse quite a bit onsite (outdoors) it gives us a chance to interact with the public.  One of my favorite inquiries was from two women who approached us when we were rehearsing at Coney Island. They asked if we were advertising a new form of exercise and if they could try it. We have had people join in spontaneously, but also give a sideward glance and turn away. At performances, mostly people are delighted and grateful for the work we’re doing. We get thanked a lot. For me, it’s a great conversation starter and a way to approach an often-difficult subject to discuss without controversy. People are much more open to ideas when they are curious. 

4) what impact do you foresee having on the audience at the Earth & Ocean Arts Festival?  

In the work we’ll be performing, I’m choreographically modeling interdependence, cause and effect and the power of collective action. I hope this provides some inspiration for people to view themselves as a part of a larger whole, both in terms of society and in terms of our relationship with and impact on the earth. We are not just responsible for ourselves; we are beholden to each other. We are not only stewards of the earth, we are reliant upon it. I hope people see the beauty in what we have the power to create and in what’s around us.

 

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Melisa Kroening-Colvin is an artist, manager of Bronze Coast Gallery, and President of the Board for the Wildlife Center of the North Coast.

1)  Tell us a bit about your background Melisa and how and when you landed in CB. 

I was born and raised in western NY and got my degree there in studio photography.  After college, I spent some time traveling and came through the north coast, and decided to live here for a year.  That was 16 years ago.

2)  How has living here on the North Oregon Coast affected your work and vision as an artist? 

Natural elements have always played a prominent role in the images I make, but living in this beautiful landscape has kept nature as a strong focus.  There is something to be said for having all the props I need for a set just outside my door.

3)  How and when did you start volunteering at WCNC?  What impact has this conservation work had on you? on your artistry? 

I began my involvement at WCNC in 2011 as an animal care volunteer.  I can't say enough about how this work has changed me, in subtle ways that I didn't see happening.  One day, I watched a gull fly overhead and realized that I wasn't just seeing it visually - I knew the weight of it in my hands and the texture of its feathers.  It's an entirely different way of experiencing the world around me, and recognizing myself as a part of the natural world rather than just an observer of it.  As for the effect it has had on my art, well, there are certainly more feathers showing up in images!  My interpretation of the images is also more heavily focused on recognition of the struggle of all life, and the beauty and pain in that.

4)  What are your hopes for the impact the Earth & Ocean Arts Festival will have on the community, visitors, and the Wildlife Center itself, which is one of the nonprofit organizations partnering with the Gallery Group for this event. 

My hope for Earth & Ocean is that the coming together of like minded individuals and organizations will help our community keep focused on caring for this tremendous place and all that inhabit it.  We all know how easy it is to get caught up in day to day life, even when you live in a place like this, and having this festival sets the stage for remembering why we've chosen to be here.  From my work at BCG, I also know how many visitors feel a strong connection to this place, and having this opportunity for them to learn about what we as a community are doing to protect it is a wonderful thing.  Many of our nonprofits are largely unknown, especially to visitors, and my hope is that learning more about the work that is being done every day will help inspire others to join in.