Archive | blog posts RSS feed for this section

BAASICS.6: The Edge Effect — Considering the Anthropocene

By the BAASICS Staff
FullSizeRenderTomorrow evening, BAASICS.6: The Edge Effect will take place at San Francisco State University’s Knuth Hall. We hope you’ll join us for the program, the kick-off event of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Pacific Division conference, “Science in the Anthropocene.”

So what, exactly, is the Anthropocene? The term means the “new era of man,” and is the proposed name for a present, as-yet-undefined geologic epoch, one in which the activities of our species have become the principal driver of global change. Read More…

Leave a comment

Everything Begins With a Walk

By Theo Knox, visual artist

"Barbed wire fence, NM" 11 x 15 inches  Packing tape, copy toner, charcoal 2014

“Barbed wire fence, NM”
11 x 15 inches
Packing tape, copy toner, charcoal
2014

I found myself at the high point of a hill and the terminus of my walk. Leaning on a barbed wire fence that cuts a boundary between public land and a protected watershed, I watched the clouds gather mass over the Pacific. Pushed eastward by the coastal winds, they climbed over the fence and made a run for the Sierras. A plastic shopping bag the color of the clouds caught my eye as it thrashed in the branches of a small oak on the other side of the fence. I fell into this experience, overwhelmed by the beauty of the bag and clouds as they moved and changed shape in the wind. It was one of those moments when time becomes mutable and stretches itself out, spilling over the edges of minutes into something indefinite.
Read More…

2 Comments

The Countryside: A Borderland in Biology, Cultural Studies, & Art

By Laura C. Rogers, PhD candidate, Program in Modern Thought and Literature, Stanford University

View from the patio of The Organization for Tropical Study’s Las Cruces Biological Station in southern Costa Rica, the primary hub of empirical research on countryside biogeography led by Stanford University’s Center for Conservation Biology. Photo by Leithen K. M’Gonigle. Courtesy of Chase D. Mendenhall (https://.ccb.stanford.edu).

View from the patio of The Organization for Tropical Study’s Las Cruces Biological Station in southern Costa
Rica, the primary hub of empirical research on countryside biogeography led by Stanford University’s
Center for Conservation Biology.
Photo by Leithen K. M’Gonigle. Courtesy of Chase D. Mendenhall (https://.ccb.stanford.edu).

Island biogeography is a theory and field of scientific research established in the 1960s by ecologists Robert H. MacArthur and Edward O. Wilson to explain rates of extinction and the number of species in isolated natural communities.[1] The theory is applied to actual oceanic islands that are surrounded by water as well as fragments of terrestrial habitat that are analogous, as when aquatic species in a lake are surrounded by desert or alpine species are isolated on a mountaintop. Within the framework of island biogeography, the countryside, consisting of agricultural farmland and human settlements, is also regarded as a type of landscape that surrounds, isolates, and encroaches on natural communities. In this way, the countryside itself is described as highly disturbed and inhospitable, which has led conservation to focus on the protection and optimization of biodiversity in natural reserves.

In recent years, a new framework of biogeography that challenges the assumptions of degradation and loss in countryside ecosystems has gained traction in scientific literature. Stanford professor Gretchen C. Daily first coined the study of “countryside biogeography” in 1997 to demonstrate conservation opportunities in agricultural landscapes.[2] Over the next decade, she continued working to develop a robust research program on countryside biogeography at Stanford’s Center for Conservation Biology (CCB), founded by population biologist Paul R. Ehrlich, who is widely known for his work on coevolution, the problem of overpopulation, and resource scarcity.[3] In that time, the program has produced a new generation of optimistic ecologists who, having studied with Daily and Ehrlich, are observing biodiversity change in agricultural ecosystems and theorizing about the countryside as a mixed-use landscape that can be cultivated both for human settlement and species richness. Postdoctoral scholar Chase D. Mendenhall is leading the CCB’s primary hub of empirical field research in southern Costa Rica at Las Cruces Biological Station in El Cantón de Coto Brus.
Read More…

Leave a comment

Navigating Border Spaces: The Scott Carpenter Story

By Alana Zimmer, BAASICS Contributor

Scott Carpenter wearing his Mercury spacesuit, 1962

Scott Carpenter wearing his Mercury spacesuit, 1962

We rarely remember the second guy. Society celebrates those who “did it first,” and the rest become footnotes.

Scott Carpenter is not a household name, unlike the first guy that achieved what Carpenter did. On May 24, 1962, Carpenter became the second American to orbit the Earth, just three months after John Glenn‘s historic flight. Today, Carpenter is an unsung NASA hero, best remembered for uttering the send-off, “Godspeed, John Glenn,” during Glenn’s more famous launch. But outer space wouldn’t be the only untraveled and little known territory Carpenter would enter.
Read More…

Leave a comment

Of Beasts & Men: Kate Clark’s Hybrid Creations

By Christopher Reiger, Co-founder & Managing Director of BAASICS

Kate Clark "Antics" Ibex, bobcat, and jack rabbit hides, foam, clay, pins, thread, rubber eyes 88 x 28 x 36 inches 2007

Kate Clark
Detail of “Antics”
Ibex, bobcat, and jack rabbit hides, foam, clay, pins, thread, rubber eyes
88 x 28 x 36 inches
2007

Last week, when I received an email exhibition update from the artist Kate Clark, I was struck by how relevant Kate’s work is to BAASICS’ current Borderlands exploration. Below, I’ve reposted a slightly edited version of “Of Beasts & Men,” a short consideration of Kate’s sculpture that I wrote for NY Arts magazine in December 2007.

+++++

Kate Clark’s taxidermic sculptures are disarming. With patience and skill, the artist marries sympathetic, sculpted human faces to animal forms, creating hybrid creatures that awaken in the viewer a sense of wonder while also prompting somber rumination.

Not long ago, similar creations — mummified mermaids, mounted werewolves — filled circus side shows and toured natural history museums, providing audiences with thrilling “proof” of the unknown and serving as reminders of our beastly inheritance. But the hybrid human-animal, or therianthrope, is almost as old as human consciousness. In the Cave of the Trois-Freres, in the French Pyrenees, a 15,000-year-old painting of a human-deer hybrid adorns the wall; ten thousand years later, the ancient Egyptians paid tribute to their animal-headed gods in stone; some Native American mythologies speak of shape shifters, and their rites often require participants to don animal masks or hides.
Read More…

Leave a comment

Lost Cities of the California Coast: A Future History

A project proposal by Christina Conklin
[Author’s note: I’m interested in connecting with potential collaborators and participants in this new project. Please get in touch if you would like to learn more about it: christina.conklin at gmail.com]

NOAA’s inundation map (coast.noaa.gov/slr/) for one foot of sea level rise, predicted around 2030. Blue indicates high tide; green shows low-lying areas that will drown around the end of the century.

NOAA’s inundation map (coast.noaa.gov/slr/) for one foot of sea level rise, predicted around 2030. Blue indicates high tide; green shows low-lying areas that will drown around the end of the century.

With sea level rising for the foreseeable future, the coastal communities of California will face unprecedented change in the coming decades. How will each city respond? With higher levees and armored sea walls to hold back the tide? With “managed retreat” to higher ground? With redesigned infrastructure and new technologies that allow their coastal zones to be flexible use areas that accommodate the rising tide line?

Lost Cities of the California Coast imagines California from a future vantage point, at the time when our grandchildren’s grandchildren look back at our generation’s response to sea level rise. By describing in detail several imagined case studies of cities’ responses, this project will explore a variety of adaptive approaches, evaluating those that were more – or less – successful over the long-term.
Read More…

Leave a comment

Of Mice and Men: An Endangered Bay Area Mouse in the Anthropocene

By Anastasia G. Ennis, Graduate Student Researcher in the Cohen Lab at the Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies, San Francisco State University

If you travelled back in time 200 years or more, the San Francisco Bay Area would look very different. In the time before Europeans settled on the shores of this amazing estuary, rolling hills, meandering creeks, and broad marshes supported a unique assemblage of wildlife and a much smaller human population. Today, the Bay Area is a bustling population center, home to almost 8 million people. Fortunately, thanks to several far-sighted community leaders, we can still see fragments of the natural landscape that once was, including tidal marsh tracts along many edges of the bay.

A young salt marsh harvest mouse atop pickleweed and marsh dodder in San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo credit: Anastasia Ennis)

A young salt marsh harvest mouse atop pickleweed and marsh dodder in San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo credit: Anastasia Ennis)

Tidal marsh represents the vital transition zone between land and water. In the years following the Gold Rush, though, marshes were considered a smelly, muddy, mosquito-infested waste of prime shorefront property. Many marshes were filled or diked and converted to agriculture, shipyards, duck ponds, or salt production facilities. Over 80% of the region’s tidal marsh was lost, reducing habitat for species uniquely adapted to life at the water’s edge, including the now-endangered salt marsh harvest mouse (SMHM).

The SMHM is the only mammal species in the world endemic to tidal marshes.* It also happens to be endemic to the salt and brackish marshes surrounding the San Francisco Bay. I find the SMHM to be especially charismatic, not only because it’s adorable but also because we share some things in common: I’m also a mammal native to the San Francisco Bay Area and, like the mouse, I enjoy swimming. This affinity was part of the reason I chose to study SMHM genetics for my Master’s thesis at San Francisco State University.
Read More…

Leave a comment

The Anthropocene, Conservation, & Paradox

By Christopher Reiger, Co-founder & Managing Director of BAASICS

Post

The polemic swirling around the term [Anthropocene] is as often existential as it is technical or scientific; provocative and challenging questions are being asked. Is humanity now so industrialized and technologically advanced as to be distinct from the rest of nature? If so, how can the Earth best be protected from our species’ excesses? Or are humans just displaying the same boom-and-bust tendencies many other animals do? And if this is so, can we learn to be good stewards, thoughtfully shaping the Earth we are a part of?

The above paragraph is drawn from the press release for our upcoming program, BAASICS.6: The Edge Effect. An earlier iteration of the text characterized the philosophical divide associated with the term Anthropocene as “fundamentally antagonistic.” That wording is too strong to apply to all of the debates surrounding the concept, but it’s a perfect fit for the often ugly quarrel among contemporary conservationists.

This infighting is thoughtfully addressed in “Bridging the Conservation Divide” (December 2014), a short piece by Michelle Nijhuis for The New Yorker. Nijhuis observes that the ideological question giving rise to the dispute is, “Should we conserve nature for nature’s sake, or for our own?,” and she identifies the principal belligerents as preservationists and utilitarians (the former being the nature-for-nature’s-sake camp and the latter the for-humanity’s-sake folks).
Read More…

2 Comments

Wilderness & Elisheva Biernoff’s “Inheritance”

By Christopher Reiger, Co-founder & Managing Director of BAASICS

Last week, in “Walking City Alleys,” I wrote that “the practical and philosophical questions that churn around the idea [of wilderness] are particularly significant in the context of our current Borderlands exploration and the upcoming BAASICS.6: The Edge Effect program at San Francisco State University.” A few days ago, thinking more about wilderness and the Anthropocene, I recalled my brief consideration of artist Elisheva Biernoff‘s installation “Inheritance,” a piece that originally appeared on Hungry Hyaena in November 2011 but I’m reposting here because of its relevance to our survey of the Borderlands.

+++++

Biernoff_Inheritance_1

Elisheva Biernoff
“Inheritance”
2010
80 slides of endangered wilderness areas projected onto mist from a humidifier housed in a plywood and fabric enclosure

Environmental historian William Cronon argues that “only people whose relation to the land was already so alienated could hold up wilderness as a model for human life in nature, for the romantic ideology of wilderness leaves precisely nowhere for human beings actually to make their living from the land.” I recalled Cronon’s incisive critique of wilderness ideology as I pondered artist Elisheva Biernoff’s “Inheritance,” a compelling installation included in Eli Ridgway Gallery‘s recent group show, “Better A Live Ass Than A Dead Lion.”
Read More…

Leave a comment

Firefly & the Border Reivers of England and Scotland

By Selene Foster, Co-founder & Executive Director of BAASICS

The word reaver is Old English for “plundering forager.” I came to know this after I adopted Joss Whedon‘s Firefly as part of my personal mythos (this is what pop culture is for, right?) and became interested in the origin of his Reavers. According to firefly.wikia.com:

Reaver territory is centered about the rim of known space….Normally they stay within their own territory and only venture out on raids, rather than moving en masse to attack the Alliance or the border worlds.

reaver

A Firefly Reaver, acting all scary like

I imagine “the rim of known space” to be a special kind of border, one that can only exist in the imagination and that is always in flux, perpetually expanding outward but also remaining finite, delimited by the extent of our knowledge. The dark malice of Whedon’s Reavers is only eclipsed by the darkness that lies beyond their territory, beyond the scope of human imaginings and the purview of modern astronomers.

Because of my affection for Firefly, I was captivated by a bit of history I came across recently, arguably made famous by the Scottish novelist, playwright, and poet Sir Walter Scott in The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, a collection of ballads he compiled and undoubtedly “improved” upon in 1802 and 1803. It includes such rousing ditties as the “Lyke-Wake Dirge,” about the soul’s travel from earth to purgatory, and “The Daemon Lover,” about a man (possibly the Devil) who lures his wife into leaving her child and joining him on a ship sailing into dark waters, where he eventually drowns them both. It also tells the heroic tale of Johnnie Armstrong, the charismatic leader of a lawless gang of raiders, operating in a borderland called the Marches.
Read More…

Leave a comment