Dawn of the Anthropocene: Writer’s Residency: Posts


Mira Schor

I’ve been tweeting pictures of the melting ice letters of T H E  F U T U R E, LigoranoReese’s Dawn of the Anthropocene. One angry tweet asks much GHCs were emitted to create that ice and accuses me of hating this planet!

The question of the carbon footprint of this project is a fair one. This is a quandary: an idea which creates an potentially useful image for a cause may use energy in a not absolutely ecologically correct manner appropriate to the cause, although in the larger scheme of things, thinking of the major sources of global warming, this is a relatively minor infraction though perhaps one that must be judged by the standards of the cause. But I did wonder about this question myself.

However I’d like to point out that I am here as an invited observer. This is not my art work.

One could say that this is a descriptive piece or a documentary one, mirroring or replicating problematics of the culture, where everything that is done for the good as for the bad may have unintended consequences and it is hard to get off the grid to a perfect state of original nature.

Speaking to Marshall Reese about this question, he agrees that these are tough issues, legitimate issues. “These blocks of ice have a lot of energy inside them, it took electricity to make them, to freeze them, power tools use electricity, refrigeration, a tremendous amount of energy, but also hundreds of people have been here today.” Reese and his collaborator Nora Ligorano hope that the piece poses a question of if there will be a future, they hope it will make people stop and think about the future. Of course they wish it could be greener and know that living as an artist in New York, in a Northern hemisphere country, there is the luxury of having these resources and the temptation to use them. They hope to create a piece that will help people see things as a commonality, the minutiae of energy used is another issue.

As Reese points out, if one followed a purist reasoning in this matter, they wouldn’t just not make this sculpture in this material, but they wouldn’t do many things, including fly places, work on computers, use iPhones, as many climate change activists do as a matter of professional course.



Mental Environment: Human Cognition

James Sherry

We usually understand that our thinking takes place in our brain, but we can also model thought as a series of connections between ourselves and the world. There’s no reason to continue to imagine thought as only in our minds. A cook is looking for the thyme. She doesn’t remember where it is on the shelf, so she runs her forefinger along the labels until she finds “thyme”. The image of the letters on the label match the model in her mind. Thinking takes place between her mind and the label as an exchange of language.

Another example, a beaver could have evolved stronger legs and bigger claws to run out and eat the bark off the tree before the wolf gets her. But instead, she figured out a better idea, expand her safe zone by building a dam. Less energy, less risk. (thanks to Mark Rowlands)

The solutions to climate change do not avoid manipulating the environment. We must make smart changes as we get smarter about our world. How can our manipulation of environment heat our homes, power our lamps and transports with less impact. You know the answers: renewable energy costs less overall. Even if the transition costs money the costs of cleaning up fossil fuel including wars is becoming too big to bear. We are choking and drowning in our own effluent. Renewables make sense. And the cost, see prior post. In many geographies solar is already cheaper than oil. It’s not a holistic solution, but a distribution of power with more types of systems in more places, each in its appropriate geography. And distributed systems are more resilient. Solar in deserts, hydro near moving water, geothermal in hot spots. Each person sees the solutions somewhat differently, but there are social types, and I may be similar to you, or different.


Economic Environment

James Sherry

We can start to arrest climate change today. In fact we are arresting it at the same time that we continue to change the climate. Significant objections are raised by vested interests regarding the cost of change. But the cost is much less than the cost of doing nothing. And the cost is not that great. Nordhaus and Stern disagree on how to calculate it, using net present value or rolling future value, but the costs are able to be calculated and compared to the cost of doing nothing. Right now the cost of acting is significantly less than the cost of doing nothing if we look out 20, 50, 100 years. Therefore we should begin to act. You can begin to act. How should you act? That depends on who you are. Interestingly you don’t have to change who you are but how you think about yourself.


Political Environment

James Sherry

The remediation  of climate change lies not in chemistry, legislation or poetry, but in their relationships. Relationships may be of several kinds from active to inactive, from one directional to bi-directional, active or passive links that are only energized under certain circumstances. When does climate change effect you enough to cause you to act? When you hear about it? When your friends try to convince you to participate? When the water starts tasting bad? When the water covers the streets? When you have to move your house because it is under water? When there is no more potable water? What’s your trigger?

What is your relationship to the world around you? When do you notice the connections? When do you think you are an independent being acting in your own self interest? We flip back and forth. Every organism separates itself from its environment. Otherwise we cannot know to breathe or eat or defend ourselves. But every organism maintains many and varied connections to the world. Which of these connections are being altered by climate change? Do you know?

These interactions with the world comprise the political environment. Communication about the connections defines the border of our political system. How can we affect it?



Environmental Poetics

James Sherry

Ligorano and Reese’s art renders environmental risk as an immediate message that we all understand, THE FUTURE melting_away. But the practical solutions beyond art engage the primary cause of global warming, HUMAN DESIRE, that doesn’t melt. Desire continues.

We have the technology to arrest climate change. We have the political systems to transform society. But we lack the will to change. Art, poetry, music supply our will, the justification, if you will, to change. Environmental change engages human endeavor broadly: political change, social change, change in how we imagine ourselves in the world, economic change, new art, more realistic views of risk. The list is thorough. Our understanding is partial and filled with error. Error is why we cannot rely on a moral principle to arrest climate change. We must deal with each component and model it against a world art and poetry imagine. And at each step in imagining we compare what we have made to the model. Is it working, what are the consequences, whose interest is served, how can we distribute the risk?



James Sherry

Have we made mistakes? Every day is imperfect, every action fraught with the terror of error, yet we persist. In the Climate March, artists Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese destroy THE FUTURE. Well, they more let it melt_away. And the people coming to see it at the Flatiron building on 23rd & 5th today September 21st, get the point, but the point is different for all of them, yet they all get it. That’s environmentalism–they’re all different and they all get it, for themselves, for us, for the same presence ourselves and various collective pronouns. Yes the climate is changing, but to arrest climate change we have to change, each and all.


Ticking Time

James Sherry

Marshall and Nora are making a specific statement that because of their choice of words has many interpretations. But there is the sense of ticking time in melting ice, not so different from our body deteriorating. We know this anxiety; how does it change our behavior to be aware of this situation? How can we, today, while a million people are marching to raise awareness of the dangers, alert powerful people exercising power about the risks they are taking, alert them in such a way as to change how they think about themselves, to change how we think about ourselves? If we think, it’s someone else’s problem, if we think we are alone in the world, what kind of society do we line in? If we imagine that we are powerless and the hierarchy gives us no power, what kind of hierarchy can we imagine that gives us power?


Welcome to THE FUTURE (ice sculpture at the Flatiron)

James Sherry

I’ve known Marshall and Nora since the early 80s. This project is the first time our detailed interests in environment have crossed, so I’m pleased to be typing while looking at the dripping ice sculpture: THE FUTURE. Their art plays with time by moving faster than time, because the scale of art is small and quick. The planet is moving slowly but that is deceptive, because it is moving as a result, partly, of our actions. What are we doing?


1 drop, 2 drop, 3 drop, 4 drop, 5

Paula Z. Segal, Director, 596 Acres


At 11:21am, the T cracked. If you hadn’t been watching for it, you could have missed it. The rupture was completely silent. A crack like this, it’s irreversible.


In 2006, I stood on the deck of a cruise ship that had set out north from Ketchikan, Alaska, to get as close to the glaciers as possible. Huge sheets of ancient ice, 500 feet tall or more, slid off the edge, dwarfing our 1,000-person ship. “They’re making more at the top of the world, right?” a little boy standing nearby asked. “Yes,” his mom said, tentatively.

It’s clear that the disappearance of the glaciers is irreversible.


In 60 seconds, between 10:46 and 10:47am on September 21, 2014, I followed the path of 45 separate drops of water as they traveled through their separate airspaces towards the ultimate splash. It was an ocular workout, darting so fast, left to right to left to right. And I missed about half of them or maybe even 9/10ths. The Future is melting so fast, from so many points on its surface, my single set of eyes, yoked together, couldn’t follow each drop.

Overheard, 11:42am, at 23rd Street and Broadway, Manhattan: “It’s supposed to be, like, the future melting away.”

Yet there’s so much good news from the organizing planet. Groups of neighbors are creating rain gardens, installing solar panels, disconnecting from the carbon-generating infrastructure one tiny step at a time, all over the planet. Little drops that are hard to track. Impossible to see them all.

And at the same time, the virtual pipeline for bringing crude oil from North Dakota to Canada for refining is being constructed as individual bits – transfer stations, rail lines, metering devices, screens and knobs manufactured all over the world. Irreplaceable forests are are being cut down for fuel. And even “green energy” power generation is being centralized and built on indigenous people’s land, replicating the harms of our already existing centralized power infrastructure. With The Future melting so fast, it can be hard to focus.


Which drops will make the biggest puddles? What matters more, what we’re losing every day or what we stand to gain? I am choosing hope, enjoying the cool breeze that wafts from the Future, and the faces of children who discover they can see the City through its base. On a muggy day, The Future is refreshingly cold.