Blogging from the Edge

signals, reports, and creative responses


new museum live blog: visual rhetoric of environmentalism

Welcome to this live blog! is grounded in responding to change as it unfolds. Live blogging is medium from which one can send signals from an unfolding edge of experience, reporting what is happening moment to moment. The medium lends itself to creating rich bodies of content in the form of raw ideas that can be useful for their "rawness". We imagine that this kind of content can offer a solid foundation and "record" from which bigger ideas might be drawn and elaborated upon more fully later.

We are blogging today from the Visual Rhetoric of Environmentalism panel at the New Museum in New York.

The panel's premise is this: As scientific consensus about global warming gains traction with the public, this panel explores how such knowledge—and the environmental strategies it prompts—should be expressed visually.

In response to this panel we will use the content generated to build out the creative contagion flashpoint on the EMS site. This flashpoint "gathers and diagrams, perhaps for the first time, vectors of creative contagion across art, science, and media. It tracks what each field is catching from the other, with what effects. It surveys what actions individuals and groups are taking to pass it on--often with the hope and conviction that this is one contagion the world really needs."

We will have our feelers out in particular to sense and respond to ideas discussing:
-the mutual contamination of art and science: For example, how artists and designers are turning towards science for materials, methods and inspiration; and how scientists are turning toward artists for ways to express research data.
-design tips: How designers can better enlist visual rhetoric in support of environmentalism.

The participants are: Dr. Cameron Tonkinwise, Charles M. Blow, and Mitchell Joachim. Moderated by Brian Sholis, editor of

The panel has been created in conjunction with the current exhibition: After Nature

At the end of the panel, we came away with these ideas:

1) In realm of visual rhetoric and environmentalism, there's a choice that designers need to make: between being a persuader or a facilitator (see live blog archive).
2) For better or for worse, we have a long way to go before culture of design in the United States is one of facilitation instead of persuasion. Countries such as Australia have many more examples and options for facilitating environmentalism via design.
3) Designers can better advance environmentalism not solely by coming up with ideas for new things, but by finding environmental efforts that are already working at the local level and then using design to strengthen them and spread them globally.
4) One form of environmentalist visual rhetoric worth exploring is the design of sustainable devices that work well, look good, and are cheaper than unsustainable ones.
5) For all the talk of the U.S. being a materialistic culture, we aren't actually materialistic at all--because we don't really value the materials (and the environmental costs of those materials) with which anything is made. Designers can help people have a more meaningful relationship with our things and what they're made of.
6) Efforts to develop a visual rhetoric of environmentalism are strengthened when design and science in-form one another. For scientific data to be facilitators of social change, designers need to move beyond charts and graphs and visualize data in ways that give them a human scale so people can relate to them.
7) Terreform shows that designers can use scientific facts and data playfully, creating an opening and potential for more innovative thought, fantastical designs, thinking in radically new ways, and breaking through resistant, habitual ways of seeing.

New York: Past, Present, Possible Future

This panel at The New Museum will engage New York’s landscape at three distinct moments in history. Eric W. Sanderson, leader of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Mannahatta Project, will discuss Manhattan island in 1609; Matthew Coolidge, of the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI), will speak about “Up River: Points of Interest from The Battery to Troy,” CLUI’s study of the “sculpted landscape” of today’s Hudson River; and Matthew Sharpe will read from his novel Jamestown, which is partially set in an imaginary future Manhattan. Moderated by Brian Sholis, editor of

Landscape ecologist, conservation planner, and cartographer Eric Sanderson, PhD, is associate director of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Living Landscapes Program and director of the organization’s Mannahatta Project. He also directed the WCS’ Human Footprint project, a comprehensive attempt to measure man’s impact on the planet. He is based at the Bronx Zoo, and collaborates with more than two dozen researchers from the American Museum of Natural History, Columbia University, and the New York Botanical Garden, among other institutions.

Matthew Coolidge is the founder and director of the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) in Los Angeles, a nonprofit art/research organization that employs a multimedia and multidisciplinary approach to increase and diffuse knowledge about how the nation’s lands are apportioned, utilized, and perceived. He serves as a project director, photographer, and curator for CLUI exhibitions, and has written several books published by CLUI. CLUI has been included in numerous international exhibitions, including the 2006 Whitney Biennial. Coolidge lectures widely and is a faculty member in the Curatorial Practice Program at the California College of the Arts. Coolidge received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in 2004 and a Smithsonian Lucelia Artist Award in 2006.

Matthew Sharpe is the author of the novels Jamestown (Soft Skull, 2007; Harcourt, 2008), The Sleeping Father (Soft Skull, 2003, translated into nine languages), and Nothing Is Terrible (Villard, 2000), as well as the short-story collection Stories from the Tube (Villard, 1998). He has taught creative writing at Wesleyan University and Columbia University, in the Bard College MFA program, and elsewhere. His stories and essays have appeared in Harper's, Zoetrope, BOMB, McSweeney's,the Los Angeles Times, Art on Paper, and Teachers & Writers magazines.

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