Monday, February 28, 2011

The Oxbow: After Church, After Cole, Flooded

Here is the painting I mentioned in class: Steve Hannock, "The Oxbow: After Church, After Cole, Flooded":

It's exhibited at the MET, not the Guggenheim.

Close up:

What you can't see well are the words written all over the canvas

And here is an excerpt from an article on Hannock:

Looking at Hannock's sprawling canvasses, muscular but still studied and restrained, you can see what he means. He's deeply influenced by the great American landscape painters of the 19th century, especially the Hudson River School - George Inness, Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church - whose sweeping vistas of rugged Eastern terrain were imbued with a sense of the romantic and the sublime.

He also takes some cues from painters like the English proto-impressionistJ.M.W. Turner, whose canvasses, bathed in golden glow, treat light almost as a sacrament. Hannock feels the same way. His subjects - the Connecticut River oxbow luxuriating in summer dusk, glinting waterfalls beneath glowing pink skies, flooded plains refracting and amplifying the light of setting sun, a train traversing the horizon at twilight, rockets piercing the dark night with deafening illumination - revel in the transportive aspect of luminosity. He said that when he paints, he's not painting mountains, water, and trees so much as he's painting light itself: they exist only to give it a place on which to play.

Early summer evenings are his favorite. "There's just something about the mood that's created during these short-lived times of day. Whether it makes the viewer or somebody who's witnessing the event more appreciative of what's going on. It just seems to be a time of day where people take pause. The motion of light, whether it's fireworks, or a car that's just gone by where you just see a streak of light, or light coming through a fog bank, it's an unlikely miracle moment that's a detonator for all sorts of stuff in people. It's something different for everybody. But I respect the power of what's going on there. I don't understand it, but I think the more I paint it, the more I'm beginning to understand it. It's the kind of thing where that search, that effort to learn what that's about, is an exciting trip. If anything, it's a reminder that it's the trip that's worthwhile."

His landscapes are unique. "I don't have any foreground," he says, pointing at a canvas in the corner that might as well be the view out a flat window. "You have to break that two-dimensional plane before you get the objects that are holding the light. Water or air. It's a neat way to bring you into the painting." Also, he doesn't tend to lug his canvas and paints out into the wilderness, as many of his 19th century forebears did. Nor does he work from photographs. "It's all imaginary. Sometimes I'll do ink drawings [as studies]. I tend to exaggerate things that are being interpreted. That exaggeration creates these rhythms that disappear with photography. Photography is flat."

Hannock, who's ambidextrous and paints with both hands, achieves his remarkable effects - canvasses that literally seem to glow - with a technique of his own invention: polishing the oil on the canvas with wet-dry sandpaper on a power sander. By painting, sanding, applying more paint and gloss, then sanding them again, it gives his works a texture and luminosity he couldn't achieve with a brush alone. "It creates accents and gives you a surface that really reflects a pure light and allows you to achieve a mood much better than the traditional way of applying paint."

Landscapes, to put it plainly, are not currently in vogue in this world of conceptual art and envelope-pushing provocateurs. Some have called Hannock an anachronism, with his candid affection for "old-fashioned" painters. He doesn't care. And anyway, his aren't exactly "traditional" landscapes. Back in 1990, quite by accident, he discovered what would become another hallmark of his style. "I used to take old envelopes and soak up excess paint," he says. "One day I soaked up the paint and threw it away and missed the wastebasket." He noticed that text on the front of the letter showed through the paint, just a little. Eureka.

Hannock now underlays many of his painting with documents or photographs or handwritten letters that are resonant to him. Sometimes he'll write, subtly, directly into the paint, giving his canvasses an added texture. These personal notes are hard to see - especially in reproduction - but once you get near enough to look closely, to really lean in and inspect them, the effect is profound, giving the sense of a multilayered excavation of history. "I'll just use anecdotes that strike me in certain ways," Hannock says. It makes his paintings exquisitely evocative of a particular space and time.

Not everyone liked the technique at first. Some thought it ruined a perfectly good landscape. "Even these abstract expressionist guys, these guys from the New York School, were saying, 'Oh, why are you writing on them?!' Of all people!"

The Ecological Indian in Pop Culture

To me, this cartoon sums up Krech's purpose perfectly. Western culture was willing to accept outlandish ideas about nature from "Native Americans", or people who resembled Native Americans, because of the stereotype we have developed. Krech simply wanted to instill question into the readers mind on whether or not all Native Americans are environmental gurus. I wonder if Krechs book had any influence on the making of this cartoon.

Friday, February 25, 2011

New exhibit at Olin

Info on a new exhibit coming to Olin Library next week:

Animal Legends:
From the Trojan Horse to Godzilla

March 4, 2011 - September 30, 2011
Hirshland Exhibition Gallery
Carl A. Kroch Library
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
On March 4, 2011 the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections will open the exhibition, “Animal Legends: From the Trojan Horse to Godzilla.” Drawing on the Library’s collections of rare books, manuscripts, photographs, and other artifacts, “Animal Legends” will explore how and why humans choose to elevate certain individual animals or species to the status of divinities, emblems, mascots, heroes, or celebrities.

Opening lecture, Friday, March 4, 2011:

“Love, Paradise, and the Rise of the Animal in English Literature”
Laura Brown, John Wendell Anderson Professor of English &
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education
5 p.m., Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium, Goldwin Smith Hall
Reception immediately following:
6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections
Hirshland Gallery, Level 2B, Carl A. Kroch Library
Information for visitors

Looks like fun.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Speaking of rivers catching on fire...

I'm sure most people have seen this, but enjoy anyway. If you haven't seen the first Cleveland Tourism video, click that as well when you're on YouTube.

Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video: 2nd Attempt
NSFW. Also, perhaps not the most socially sensitive video, but irreverence seems to be our generation's thing.

Stop global warming

This WWF Finland advertisement is almost exactly like the Keep America Beautiful campaign except with polar bears instead of Iron Eyes Cody. Guilt and sympathy is again the tactic, with nature the clear victim of evil cities . Both ads also end with the same lesson- you can stop pollution/global warming.
Polar bears have become a symbol of the effects of climate change just as Iron Eye's Cody became the face of the anti-pollution campaign. Polar bears are of course not the only species or even the species most affected by global warming, but their cultural significance, likeability, and extreme habitat make them the perfect charismatic mega-fauna for the task.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hypocrisy in Nature

Before this class, ask me what I thought was involved in a hunt and I would tell you that a hunt simply involves the killing or trapping of an animal. But after attending some of the lectures from this class, I have learned that there is more to hunting than a simple chase and/or kill. Neither did I think that the act of hunting would be more reserved toward the elite than the average commoner. Although after learning all I did from class, the people thought up about almost every aspect of the hunting game, and it surprised me that some of those ideas had not crossed my mind earlier.
The most interesting aspect of the hunt that I learned about was the use of the dogs to hunt the others animals. After learning about it in class, I re-watched Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I noticed in the scene where Gaston chases after the Beast that dogs were released into the woods in order to trap the Beast. Not only did I feel Gaston was cheating (as I was rooting for the welfare for the Beast), I noticed just how much the dogs were incorporated into the hunt, something that should have been a battle between only man and animal, and not man, his animal, and other animals. It surprised me for many reasons, all originally stemming on the hypocrisy of the matter.
In Virgin Huntresses and Bleeding Feasts, hunting is defined as “the deliberate, direct, violent killing of unrestrained wild animals…the hunt is thus by definition an armed confrontation between humanness and wildness” (30). Yet, taking dogs and incorporating them into the hunt is considered okay. How can that work when, according to the same text, “the hunted animal must also be free—that is, able to flee (and to strike back at) its human assailment” (29)? It is something I have yet to grasp, though I am aware there are a lot of instances when people find justifications for what they do so that it fits their agenda. Hunting and using the dogs in order to corner animals that should be “able to flee,” I feel, falls under the category of something that was justified. It must have been, if the use of taking dogs along on hunts was allowed to continue.
A recent article on the end of Verizon’s unlimited data plan bore some striking similarities to what one might expect from a Sierra Club article. On current data usage, Chetan Sharma, owner of a telecom consulting agency, had this to say:

"So far, the ecosystem hasn’t paid attention to delivery efficiency. Content developers rarely care how much data is being transferred…. Now there’s room for technology that can help change that….It was unsustainable….It couldn’t have gone on forever."

To see the “tech biz” co-opting “eco” terminology is an incredible testament to the prominence the environmental debate in mainstream culture, and a fascinating example of the evolution of language. Is this a signal that concern over those other ecosystems has reached a critical mass, or is it becoming white noise, just there to expand the “tech biz” lexicon? Is there room for technology that might make our other development sustainable? Or, are we just that much more concerned about the costs of data plans than the unaccounted for costs of living beyond the earth's means?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Deer versus Polar Bears

Today I stumbled upon this youtube video of a wild white tail deer jumping into a polar bear tank at the zoo. It successfully took on the polar bears and ran away. Once it ran away, the zoo killed the wild deer because it was too aggressive/dangerous. The video had upwards of three million views! I wonder how people felt when they learned that this "heroic" Bambi-esque deer was killed by the zoo. It was kind of a reminder of how mindless deer are (not only do they run in front of cars, yet they jump into polar bear tanks...)

Why Societies Collapse

Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse gives a talk on why societies collapse. Three of his five factors that contribute to collapse are environmental problems, failure to adapt to environmental problems, and climate change. He also includes social problems such as hostile neighbors and collapse of essential trading relationships. I have not read his books but perhaps he gives a more well-rounded view of collapse than Hughes, while still focusing on the environmental issues.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Popular Culture, the Oil Spill and America's Desire for a Quick Fix

NHRE 2011 Application

The BP YouTube channel appeared as a suggested link on the side of a clip from Bambi. YouTube has served as a major cultural institution in our modern society. It directs our interests, provides access to mainstream popular and tickles our funny bone. The societal role of YouTube continues to expand as our information society becomes more and more reliant on technology. Across the globe, people are now using YouTube as a major mechanism of societal change. Social networking and viral videos have helped elect President Obama and overthrow Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

It is not surprising that British Petroleum, which is viewed as one of the greatest environmental villains of the last decade, has turned to YouTube and other cultural outlets to spearhead its public relations campaign. The BP oil spill is an environmental catastrophe unlike other environmental woes of the past and present. Unlike global warming or deforestation in the Amazon that are far away or abstract issues, the BP oil spill washed up on our own shore, affected our own wallets and presented us with a singular villain to blame. Americans were willing to place blame at the feat of the BP much more quickly than to they would be able to look introspectively at their own actions for the root cause of Global Warming or deforestation. By being able to name a unique scapegoat and ignore all potential responsibility stemming from our veracious appetite for oil, we as a country were able to rally together and combat this “unnatural disaster” in a way that we will never be able to approach global warming.

Viewing the series of videos on the BP channel and listening to the individual stories of disaster on the Gulf and how “BP made it right” forced me to think about the concepts of root cause and the quick fix. As we discussed in class at the beginning of the semester our society longs for a simple explanations, a root cause, a scapegoat and a quick fix. The oil spill in the gulf seemingly had all of these characteristics this may seemingly explain why the catastrophe has all but disappeared from the public eye. Acknowledging these motivations and the important role they will play will be crucial as we go forward with environmental and global warming policy.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Trouble with Lutts

Ralph Lutts' “The Trouble with Bambi” may have made some valid points about Disney’s portrayal of man the hunter, but in doing so he makes one criticism of the environmental movement which made me lose track of what those were. He draws from a Forbes critic’s review of Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature. I doubt the critic read more than the jacket sleeve to portray McKibben as being raised on a Walt Disney view of nature. Bill McKibben, a meateater himself, admits that he was raised on readings of “Little House on the Prairie.” In McKibben’s ideal world, the Bambi hunter’s cottage would be something for Americans to aspire to- minus the subsequent forest fire. McKibben's titles may be sensational at times, but he is writing for a general audience- not an easy group to lasso without a gimmick.

Lutts' use of a book review to illustrate his point seems cheap to me. That the review comes from a business magazine makes it seem even more so. Clearly, McKibben’s critiques of consumerism pose a threat to the interests of the Forbes reader. But to the hunter (and Lutts) he is more likely an ally. He may tell him to lose the bonfire and get a more efficient woodstove for the cottage, but at the end of the day he would likely be thankful for the venison and for knowing that a few less people were relying on a global food system.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The trouble with the trouble with wilderness

Bill Cronon's "The trouble with wilderness" is one of the most widely read essays in the field of environmental history. You might want to check out some of the responses it spurred. Here is a link to one, "The trouble with Bill Cronon's wilderness," by Samuel Hays:

But remember, the precis assignment does not include personal opinions--only a summary of Cronon's piece.

Defining Wilderness

Monday, February 14, 2011

Beauty and the Beast...the end of the hunt

The Hunter becoming The Hunted! (with a little help from a princess) =]

copyright Disney, of course.

Gawain's Word

once again YouTube to the rescue . . .

Friday, February 11, 2011

Valhalla Rising

Hi Everyone,

Reading the Sun today (friday feb 11) i saw a review for Valhalla Rising, a foreign film. I was wondering if anyone had seen it? The review opens 'In the beginning there was man and nature', a direct quote from the opening of the movie, which is about a scandanavian gladiator type person around the year 1000 who escapes and joins a crusade (from what I can tell from the review). It is well reviewed and sounds like it could have an interesting impression of nature. If I can find a copy of it I'll post again and let everyone know where.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Gladiator Movie

What is the name of the movie we watched about the gladiatorial games in Rome? I thought it was a BBC documentary but I can't find it.

Joni Mitchell Primitivism

Going on today's lecture on music, Joni Mitchell's song Big Yellow Taxi came to mind where she asks farmers for "spots on her apples " but to "leave [her] the birds and the bees". Here is a video of her singing this song in 1970.

Go Paleo!

This is my friend Doug. Doug recently went "paleo," paleolithic that is. This is a diet that recommends we go back to eating like cavemen- meat, seeds, nuts, berries, and vegetables. Carbohydrates are merely an invention of agriculture and are something that we did not evolve to eat. Check out the website:
Sorry, Doug, but you're a primitivist if I've ever seen one.

CAFO + Snow = 85,000 chickens squashed

The heavy snows on the East Coast have led to roof collapse all over the Northeast. One particular collapse led to the death of 85,000 chickens in one go.

Ridiculous, and a powerful reminder of what our food systems look like:

Monday, February 7, 2011

Re: Alcock Review of Hughes

Hey all. I just wanted to post a little bit about our discussion of Susan Alcock's book review of Hughes today. The more I think about the review, the more I feel that we misrepresented her arguments in class. With all due respect to the anonymous student who wrote the e-mail that Professor Tantillo gave us today, I really don't feel that Alcock's criticism was that Hughes only focused on environmental reasons for the downfall of classical societies. As the student (who was not directly addressing Alcock's review, but a more general sentiment in class that Hughes only mentioned environmental problems) correctly points out, Hughes does make it very clear that he is not arguing for a simple cause and effect, but rather a contribution to the fall of ancient Greece and Rome. I don't think that Alcock would dispute this argument. Alcock states that she objects to Hughes second argument, that "environmental degradation can be linked to the 'decline of classical civilization'." Alcock goes on to say that "this teleological view of Mediterranean history (with everything going downhill from the Greco-Roman period) no longer seems so clear cut today." In that sense I feel that Alcock's argument is that Hughes wrongly picks the collapse of the Roman empire as not only an endpoint, but as evidence that his conclusions were valid. I understand that the book has to end somewhere, and the fall of the Roman empire is probably a good place for that to happen, but it does seem that Hughes made the fall of rome the end all be all of classical civilization, which only added to the credibility of his argument. Take Hughes' closing argument for the book (194), "Environmental changes as a result of human activities must be judged to be one of the causes in the decline of ancient Greek and Roman civilization, and in producing the stark conditions of the early Medieval centuries." While I think Hughes' argumentation in the previous chapters supported the first half of his statement, I'm pretty certain that the extension to the Medieval centuries, the post Greco-Roman period that Alcock is discussing, is both unwarranted and baseless given his claims. While I am no scholar on post Greco-Roman Mediterranean history, asserting that the environmental problems of classical civilizations produced hundreds of years of underdeveloped society simply doesn't sit right with me as no evidence is provided. Additionally, would Hughes argue that the only reason that the enlightenment and renaissance were able to rekindle what he thought was the greatness of classical situation was because there was a hiatus in which no environmental degradation occurred? I highly doubt there is evidence for that, and I wouldn't be surprised to find much environmental abuse throughout the middle and dark ages. Therefore, I do feel that Alcock's concerns were somewhat justified, in that Hughes dismisses all post-Roman societies as "stark" civilizations resulting from the collapse of Greece and Rome. Given her argumentation, I feel that this is not the consensus among modern historians.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The San people of the Kalahari Desert

Though I've been a vegetarian for 17 years, this is the one instance where I was able to find beauty in hunting.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Kanye's new video is about this class.

Somebody needs to do a term paper on Kanye's new video, Runaway.

Forest destruction? The border between animals and humans? Gender studies? Sex? American history? Race relations? Pop culture? This video has it all.

Here's one article that highlights some possible interpretations:

"And of course, there's the matter of the phoenix herself, which serves a dual purpose in 'Runaway.' On one hand, she plays into the larger theme of man versus nature; and, on the other, she's a very pretty metaphor for Kayne's triumphant return to the spotlight... 'I think she embraces nature and how, in a sense, we're ignoring it. And how she has fallen and we are trying to civilize her, and she can't; it's destroying her.'"