Guest Voices: Peter Wheeler

Today’s guest post comes from Peter Wheeler of the Nature Conservancy. Taking leave of this planet, to gain a new perspective on our planet, Wheeler gives us a moment of pause to reflect on the iconic Earth-rise photo that was taken during the Apollo 8 mission in 1968. While filing through the many issues that concern us here on earth, this legendary photo altered are perception of the planet by showing us what it looked like from afar. Here is an apt moment to reconsider this image, our planet, our role upon it, and how Earth Matters from an entirely different vantage point.

The Dark Side of the Moon

“In 1968 Apollo 8 went to the moon…”

What more exciting first line of a story could there be for any earth dweller? To boldly go… three men aboard, among our billions, setting off on the ultimate adventure. Only 11 years after the first man ever, Yuri Gagarin, escaped the earth’s gravitational field briefly to orbit the earth, just once.

Think of that. What were you doing in April 2002, just 11 years ago? Imagine the progress!  On the day they went, a HP12-C pocket calculator cost more than $500 which in real terms (today’s money) would  be almost $3,500.  The total computing power on board the Command Module was less than what you have today in your smart phone. At number 3 in the UK music charts was I’m an Urban Spaceman by the Bonzo Dog Doo-dah band. Earlier in that year, 1968, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Richard Nixon had just defeated Hubert Humphrey in the presidential election, but Lyndon Johnson still occupied the White House; the War in Vietnam was in full swing, as was the resistance movement, boiling over into the Summer of Love.

And yet these three were going to travel over a quarter of a million miles to circumnavigate the moon, just to show that it could be done. And to prepare the way for the ultimate Giant Step For Mankind, taken by Buzz Aldrin three missions and just nineteen months later on July 20th 1969 . Three years after that, Pink Floyd would release their best-selling album, The Dark Side of the Moon, opening propitiously with the ringing of cash registers over a jumpy bass guitar line, ‘Money…’

Then this happened: after circumnavigating the moon, being the first men to see for themselves the dark side of the moon, that cold desolate monochrome place, those same three men saw something quite remarkable, more remarkable even than the lunar landscape they were flying over. They saw earth, rising above the stark atmosphere-less horizon, not a full earth but a waxing earth, half in light, half in shadow, but beautiful, blue green and white. Our planet. Earth-Rise.

 

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Wiliam Anders took this photograph on December 24th, 1968.

The film made of this event is stunning. The impact of the image seen for the first time comes across in the joyous outburst by the crew. Even at mission control in Houston, engineers gazed amazed at their monitors.

Back in 1948, the British astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle predicted that when spaceflight enabled us to see the whole Earth from space, the view would change us forever. He was right.

I saw this film first, projected onto a huge screen erected in the Rajasthan desert, on September 23rd 2013. With around 100 others, I saw it beneath the stars and, yes, the moon. In the 45 years since that amazing moment, many of us were experiencing it for the first time. No man has trodden on the moon since 1971, so we can safely assume that going there is of no great import. What clearly was of great import was seeing Earth this way for the first time.

Four years before the Apollo 8 mission, Adlai Stevenson addressing the UN had used these words,

“We travel together, passengers on a little space ship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil; all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and, I will say, the love we give our fragile craft. We cannot maintain it half fortunate, half miserable, half confident, half despairing, half slave—to the ancient enemies of man—half free in a liberation of resources undreamed of until this day. No craft, no crew can travel safely with such vast contradictions. On their resolution depends the survival of us all…”

Now ‘Spaceship Earth’ really meant something.

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http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7797439.stm

The second time I saw this film, I was sitting in the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill in DC among 240 trustees of The Nature Conservancy, and the film was introduced by Colonel Ron Garan, a retired US Airforce Pilot and NASA Astronaut, who had participated along with two Russian Cosmonauts on the 50th anniversary mission on a Soyuz TMA-21 launch vehicle spending 13 months on the International Space Station.

When Anders took his famous Earth Rise photograph, Garan was 7 years old.

 

 

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Guest Voices: Chelsea Ellsworth

Today’s guest post comes from former NMAfA intern Chelsea Ellsworth. Having joined the NMAfA team at one of the busiest and most crucial times – during the install of the show – Ellsworth got a first hand view of all the work it took to execute this ambitious exhibition. One of the most ambitious pieces, perhaps, was Moroccan artist Hassan Echair’s site specific installation Ascension. Not only was it one of the most ambitious pieces, it was also the first artwork at NMAfA installed via skype, with the artists supervising the installation in DC all the way from Morocco. Below, Ellsworth gives us an account of some of her experiences with this work and with Earth Matters.

My name is Chelsea Ellsworth and I worked as an exhibits intern at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.  I helped the exhibits team to install the show Earth Matters from January to April and had the opportunity to work specifically with one artist in particular, Hassan Echair.  Hassan Echair created a piece entitled Ascension that was to be reproduced for this exhibition at NMAfA but, as he was located in Morocco, we had to prepare his piece for him remotely.

At the start of my internship, I was asked to source and purchase materials for Hassan to make this piece here at our museum.  As time went on, I was assigned additional projects in the preparation of this piece.  As I worked on these projects, I had many questions for Hassan that I sent via email.  Some of these were translated using an online translator but others were so complex that I sent them to some friends who spoke French so that they could translate them more accurately.  Despite the language gap and the physical distance, Hassan and I were able to communicate in order to prepare his piece for the exhibition.  Eventually, Hassan notified us that he would not be able to come and install the piece, leaving its completion to us.  As a result, I had the exciting opportunity to create and oversee this piece while working with the Exhibits installation team.

As the rest of the team was busy working on other aspects of this exhibition, I took responsibility for this piece and got to work preparing all of the components for assembly.  My supervisor, Kevin Etherton, and I worked together each day to assemble this piece and to prepare it to show to Hassan.

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Kevin Etherton and Chelseal Ellsworth installing Ascension

 

We continued to communicate via email with Hassan but we got to a point where photos and emails were no longer enough to get this piece completed.  We then scheduled a day when we could have a French translator and a Skype connection with Hassan in Morocco.

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Artist Hassan Echair supervises the installation of his work via skype

 

That day was very interesting as I was able to communicate with Hassan directly for the first time and see his reaction to what we had done with his design.  I was anxious to hear his feedback and worried that he would find something terribly wrong, but I was glad to hear that he loved the work we had done and was pleased with how his piece had turned out.  He gave us some minor alterations here and there and then sat down with me on Skype and demonstrated how to properly tie his bamboo poles together, something that would have been very difficult to figure out through email.

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Hassan Echair (b. 1964, Morocco)

Ascension, 2006, Bamboo, quartz, cord, paint

 

I loved working on this piece and I am glad to say that we completed Hassan’s piece and he was pleased with the results.  I loved having the opportunity to speak with Hassan and to see his reaction to our weeks of hard work and I am glad that we were able to create this fantastic work of art together.

Guest Voices: Ledelle Moe

Today’s guest post comes from South African artist Ledelle Moe. Although born in South Africa, Moe’s heritage is geographically diverse, as are the many places she has lived. Often dealing with place and identity in her work, Moe created a stunning outdoor sculpture for the Earth Matters exhibition. Below are her reflections on the meaning of this work and her creative process.

 

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Ledelle Moe (b. 1971, South Africa)

Land/Displacements, 2012–13

Concrete, iron, Collection of the artist

 

In preparing to write for this blog, I have reflected on journeys travelled. Outside of the everyday of “being” in a place, the conscious trips I have taken feel like important pilgrimages. The ones I will site touch base with the beauty and history of South Africa.

On the 6th of October, I travelled with a friend to Robben Island for the day. During this trip an ex-political prisoner guided the tour through the cells. Nelson Mandela’s autobiography-“Long Walk to Freedom” came to life as my feet walked through the place that he has written about in so much detail. The book itself is a history lesson and an adventure story. It follows a man whose bravery and convictions, trials and triumphs are explained in a way that makes you feel as though he is writing you alone. Image

I re-“read” the book as an audiotape while driving across the country last year in preparation for making the work at the African Museum. His story and my journey from Cape Town to Durban had overlapping points such as Mthatha and I felt awe at being able to access this amazing country to revisit it and acknowledge its richness no matter how complex and difficult the history.

The trip to Robben Island left me with a heavy weight of the history of the prison and South Africa and as a result I felt compelled to try and understand the people that were victims of horrific injustices. In each cell there is now an image of the prisoner and a paragraph in their own words of the time spent there. Since then I have been drawing small pen and ink cameos of each person. This helps me to slow down and remember and walk through this history.

Both the visit to Robben Island and the trip across country reminded me of the thoughts Carol Becker articulates in her book “Thinking In Place” In this book she speaks about the impulse to travel to a place that holds a personal and political history, her reflections being, that through the act of making a pilgrimage to a place a possible reconciliation with the past and history of that place is possible.

During my cross-country trip last year I stopped in a town called Elliot, not far from Mthatha. It was this landscape that I used as inspiration for the work at the African Museum. The land itself makes up the base of the Drakensberg Mountains and has a unique place in the evolution of colonial South African territorial history and land claim. It marks one of many junctures of land ownership issues that are pervasive throughout South Africa.

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The small figures that are attached to the larger form of the sculpture were made from an accumulation of soil that I gathered along the trip. In taking the soil, I acknowledge the place I am in, while also removing a small part of that place and displacing it. In doing this, I felt it was a small gesture of “land claim”- of taking what is not mine and acknowledging that act. This investigation was a reflection of the migrations of my own family.

The articulation of the work itself, I hope speaks to a connection and disconnection, and of collective and individual grouping of peoples as they move transiently through and from the land.

As I sit here on table mountain writing this, I can reflect on this geography, explore this history and yet its with this distance that I begin to understand the place I have called home in the States in more focus. Similarly, when in the States the distance allows me the perspective to understand South Africa. It is with this paradox and duality that I feel very grateful to be able to participate in the show “Earth Matters” – that asks us to consider the earth under our feet and acknowledge it.

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Guest Voices: Charles Okereke

Today’s guest post comes to us from photographer Charles Okereke. Based in Nigeria, Okereke’s world Once in a Blue World was featured in the Earth Matters exhibition. Charles was also feature earlier on our blog -https://earthmatters2013.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/earth-matters-around-the-web-charles-okereke/.

Now Okereke comes to us with his own words and meditations on his powerful and personal, world-conscious photographs. Be sure to visit Okereke’s blog for more works of art and news about this renowned photographer at charles-okereke.blogspot.com/.

Earth, a Dying World?  

by

Charles Okereke

 

The Earth was made as a dwelling place for all creatures, which also includes man.

Of all the creatures dwelling therein, Man is the destroyer when he was otherwise crowned with sovereignty. This arrogant attitude indicates an excess of self-worth, and has made man a plunderer rather than a nurturer.

Human beings are the only creatures that have set rules apart for themselves and refuse to conform to laws that guide creation’s movement and sustenance. Man is similarly the only creature that is out of tune with the eco-system and plagued with a one-sided narrow intellectual outlook.

What is sensed and termed as catastrophes globally today are but a retroactive consequence of a misalignment of the forces of nature – mankind so to speak, has dug its own grave, like dying Worlds.

Hdramhindra Blasted-2010 copy

Hdramhindra Blasted (2010)

This period of recompense will be felt globally in every facet of human endeavor, not only environmentally or climatically. But it will likewise reflect in socio-political affairs, which can already be surmised in the upheavals that are perennial occurrences today.

 

Man has been living in an exclusively selfish mentality, devoid of the understanding of the powers which he uses daily, ignoring nature’s principles and adjusting thereby. Economic affairs are collapsing; nations are in conflict, and there is uprising everywhere.

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Dis-integration Cameo (2010)

 

These are visible reverse processes, as the system has to automatically be put back into orderliness by eliminating the inferior and the destructive, be they man or animals, worlds and planets, landscapes and mountains, rivers and oceans, man against man, nations against nations, economic shifts and the rest of them – all these are manifestations of the activities of the Lords of the elements, which man sees as warfare in nature, and perceives one-sidedly as cruel in their manifestations and activities.

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Collapse of Andromeda Emperial (2011)

Even in routine designs, we know there is a designer with a purpose who strives to make his designs adaptable and useful to the original intention for its creation; how much more for an automatic pulsating life form like the Earth with her inherent regulatory system. Mankind can only learn by compulsion and   experiences in the coming years to adapt naturally.

My concern comes from the simple understanding that we are all connected and a part of the ecosystem, and by my sense of duty to maintain a healthy and natural world.

Saturn Anchored-2010 copy

Saturn Anchored (2010)

 

The work of the photographer of this generation becomes increasingly perilous as understanding narrows. As an artist, I use photography as a tool to highlight this observation and neglect, a state of inertia among the people and to bring about an awakening to consciousness, and of the need to be more proactive on issues that concern us as human beings.

Vasitha-2010 copy

Vasitha (2010)

My work speaks metaphorically, as I tend to perceive the images in a sort of tragic-comic innuendo, which if deduced based on surface perception will not reveal much, unless penetrated. I work as an artist not in a stark documentation of the assaulted environment, but from deductions which expose and interpret without being overly offensive or derogatory in presentation. I work to instigate a re-examining of hitherto traditional precepts which do not further, but hinder our species’ progress towards a healthy maturity.

Likewise, the Planetarium subseries, from my Unseen World series uses common objects littering my local environment to illustrate planets in stages of birth, development and disintegration – effects of the activities of the creatures dwelling therein. This places a grim picture before the people of earth illustrating the urgent need to care for Mother Earth and, perhaps, in this process, provide hope for a rebirth and rejuvenation.

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Count Down Versuvus (2011)

The fight for a readjustment to the natural order is a constant shift in the consciousness of mankind, as this period is declared a compelling time for obedience, and can never relent to the wills of men, but of a final culmination of purification, which will not cease until there is a change. More is yet to come that will silence man, until he learns the true principles of adaptation.

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Rebirth of Orpheus (2010)

In my immediate environment, I act more in the sense of an activist for a cause. My pronouncements and photography has marked me out as a crusader of sorts. But these are issues of intolerance which affect all regions, although it could be more heightened and perceived in some areas.

Paradise Utopia-2011 copy

Paradise Utopia (2011)

 

Hence I stand on my duty post armed with the potentials to perceive, deduce and freeze the moments through imagery.

By Charles Okereke, 2013

http://www.charles-okereke.blogspot.com

 

Guest Voices: Strijdom van der Merwe, Earth Works

Today’s guest post comes to us from Strijdom van der Merwe, Africa’s only dedicated land artist and one of three artists who were selected to create earth works in the Smithsonian Gardens as part of the exhibition, Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa. A contemplative artist, van der Merwe gives us a peek into the thoughts behind his work.

The British artist Richard Long once made the statement when he said “the ground is the beginning and the end of existence, whether in terms of clay, canvas or the fabric of the mind. The place you start from, where you make your first mark, there is always a starting point which effects the outcome of your undertaking.”  As a land artist myself I believe that the land must always have greater impact on you than you on the landscape. When following the disciplines and rules of the cycles of nature and observing its beauty and fragility you became aware of how and where you fit into this natural world. No work in the landscape can begin without a proper meditation process and understanding of that space, the reason for its existence and where it is going and were it is coming from. Once this knowledge has been obtained, only then can you start to sculpt the land according to what the site allows you to do or the message that you want to bring across. But first was the land, always the land.

ImageRichard Long (b. 1945), Small White Pebble Circles, 1987, Tate Modern (photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen)

As an artist that predominantly does work in Africa you are aware that Africa is a multiplex of cultural marks that have been left behind by generations. First was the San people that trekked through the landscape leaving drawings and engravings on the rocks, then came the tribes from north Africa who built stone walls and dwellings, then came the settlers from Europe and they build telephone poles and roads. All of these leave marks and imprints on the landscape as explanation of different needs and purposes. As a land artist, whenever I touch and work the land all of these become part of my thinking process. How much does history and culture influence my work, how deep a mark do I want to leave behind or do I only want to leave behind a reminder of an individual that has altered and changed the natural material into geometric forms in order to create an art work, an art work that is only for the moment and will disappear again within the cycles of nature.

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IMG_6528Earth Works by Strijdom van der Merwe

From the Archives: Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

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Most people are aware that Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa, but fewer are aware of its other unique ecological distinctions: at over 19,000 feet high, it is the tallest freestanding volcanic mountain in the world, as well as a truly one-of-kind self-contained ecosystem that contains every known ecological zone on earth: arid plains, savannah, mountain rainforest and heath, alpine desert, and glacial snow and ice. This is evident in these truly fantastic photographs taken by Eliot Elisofon on his way up the mountain, taken in 1966, of his Tanzanian guides.

fffThese photos reveal just how diverse the ecosystem of Kilimanjaro really is. In one photo, the guides carry heavy packs through what appears to be a tropical forest, complete with palms and carpet of green. Then the group moves through what appears to be a moon-like desert landscape, bundled up as a cold fog moves in.  In another, a pair of guides sit smiling on a steep, rocky incline, again free of vegetation. In the background, a snow-covered summit can be spotted. The journey to the top of Kilimanjaro is not just one of skill and endurance.  It also illuminates earth’s extraordinary diversity, bounty, and delicate ecological balance.

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South African mixed-media artist Georgia Papageorge (b. 1941, South Africa) has found inspiration in this mountain, at the same time that she uses her work to draw attention to the forces that endanger it.  She sees in Kilimanjaro a reflection of one of today’s most pressing issues. Because of the distinct ecosystem of the mountain, it seemed to Papageorge a place from which to track and fully comprehend climate change. After first visiting in 1996, Papageorge has repeatedly returned to the mountain, and since 2005 it has been a focus of her artistic work and activism.

The product of Papageorge’s diligent and prodigious work and research on the mountain is seen in her work in Earth Matters, Kilimanjaro/Cold Fire (2010), a dual projection video that documents dramatically Kilimanjaro’s melting glacier and central Africa’s extensive charcoal trade that if continued in an unsustainable manner will lead to the deforestation of vast tracks of Africa’s landscape. Her work begs the question: how much longer will the ecosystems Elisofon documented remain? How soon before this awe-inspiring diversity of nature disappears? And what will we be left with when it is gone? Share your thoughts below.

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Guest Voices: An Unparalleled Record of Earth from Above

Our guest post today comes to us from Jeannie Allen, the Senior Technical Specialist for Sigma Space Corporation at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Marking a huge moment, just this past week, NASA has officially handed over the recently launched Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) satellite to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), making the satellite officially Landsat 8.

The transfer marks a major achievement for the historic Landsat program.  Landsat 8 will send back images more useful, detailed, and clear than ever before!

LandsatEarthDay2012_77Visitors to the Smithsonian Mall explore a Landsat scene of Washington DC on Earth Day 2012 (photo credit – Jeannette Allen)

Speeding around the Earth at 16,800 mph (27,000 kph), two Landsat satellites are quietly, faithfully monitoring our dynamic lands from space. Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 are now in orbit about 400 miles above us. Their predecessors began recording specialized digital images of Earth in 1972, creating a treasure trove of information for everyone around the world.

Landsat satellites show us our own landscapes in new ways. With super-human detectors, they see different wavelengths of visible and infrared light reflected and emitted from Earth’s surface. They give us this view at a resolution of 30 m, about the size of a baseball diamond. You can’t see yourself in a Landsat scene, but you can see your neighborhood:  the larger streets, shopping centers, and open spaces.

Mike & Peter_FieldPeople work in the field to confirm the information they get from satellites. (photo credit – Jeannette Allen)

LDCM_still_Gulf_Coast_side_viewJointly managed by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, Landsat offers the longest continuous global record of the Earth’s surface as observed from space.  All Landsat data are available at no cost for anyone in the world to download and use. (photo credit – NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)

What do these satellite scenes tell us about our relationship with the Earth? They tell us we are changing it. Slowly, surely, one piece of ground at a time, we are altering the surface of our planet. You can see these changes in pairs or series of Landsat scenes. People make cities bigger; farmers plant crops, irrigate, and harvest them; forests burn and sprout up again. Glaciers are shrinking in response to a warming climate. The space-based perspective on the changes we’ve made can be surprising!

Picture 2Yellowstone National Park before (1987), during (1988) and after (2011) a huge fire. White puffy clouds appear in some parts of the 1987 image, and gray-blue smoke appears in 1988. Red in the 1988 image indicates areas that are burning or have just burned, detected by Landsat’s sensitivity to infrared light. Pinkish colors in the 2011 image show areas recovering from the fire.

Many scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and their support staff feel strongly about the Landsat satellites. Landsat data provide the backbone for research and practical uses of remote sensing data around the world. Furthermore the data are free. Anyone on the internet can access the data, download it, and explore your own landscape of interest, from USGS GloVIS website.

We can find art as well as science in Landsat scenes. Some people at USGS made a collection of images just for their special qualities of color, composition and form. Earth as Art images are available for download here.

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Lena River Delta

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Malaspina Glacier

FI_EvergladesFlorida Everglades

 To learn more about Landsat, go to:

http://landsat.usgs.gov

http://www.nasa.gov/landsat