ALCHEMY ON THE SEINE: RIVER, WOODS, & WORD
Artist: Irene F. Sullivan / Poet: Lindy E. Usher
ALCHEMY ON THE SEINE is a three-year project of paintings, installation, prose and poetry wit(h)nessing the eco-phenomenology of the river Seine in the village Marnay sur Seine, France. This project culminates in an exhibit of paintings and milieu installation by the North American artist, Irene F. Sullivan with poetry written and presented by United Kingdom poet, Lindy E. Usher. The installation anticipates the participation of local French School children in international conversation and collaboration with school children from Colorado.
The purpose of this project is to create space(s) for developing and experiencing diverse forms of understanding of the local eco-systems of two rivers; the Seine in France and the St. Vrain in Colorado. Experiencing, seeing, and ‘coming to know’ local eco-systems translates into broader environmental understanding, sensing and thinking.
A recent 2016 study published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences* found that arts-humanities-science collaborations 1 have great potential to catalyze relationships between scholars, the public and the natural world; cultivate inspiration and empathy for the natural world; and spark awareness shifts that can enable pro-environmental behavior.
The American poet and ecologist, Robert Hass writes that “what we humans disregard, what we fail to know and grasp, is easy to destroy; a mountain top, a coral reef, a forest, a river, a human community.”
The village of Marnay sur Seine was founded in the 9th century. It has a population of about 250 people. It sits just down river from the nuclear power plants of Nogent and is home to le garden botanique de Marnay-sur- Seine. The River Seine bears silent wit(h)ness to the ecologic diversity of the village and surrounding area. It is bounded by woods of nesting owls, wetlands with fishing herons and swirling eddies where swans nest. The 12th century church, Notre Dame De l’Assomption was classified as a historical monument in 1990. It stands in vigilance holding the alchemical space of ‘tenderness toward existence’ as the Seine flows pass.
I first came to know the village of Marnay sur Seine as a visiting artist on a month long artist residency at CAMAC ( centre d’art marnay art centre), an international creative meeting point for art, science and technology in September 2016. Along with creating my own body of work, I had the privilege of opening my studio to visiting school children involved in the arts programs offered at CAMAC.
My work as an artist is about putting my imagination and creativity in service to ‘tenderness toward existence.’ My living and working in the Alaskan Arctic and Fulbright Research re-covering the stories of Greenlandic Women Shamans has provided me with ‘a deep in my bones’ way of responding to the climate crisis. It is my practice of soul vigilance. The work of Kathryn Yusoff, Ph.D and Jennifer Gabrys, Ph.D. ; Climate Change and The Imagination has been an important influence on my understanding of the ‘art and science’ interface. Understanding climate change with “imaginative openings” through investigations in the relational and historic geographies of climate in the imagination, and the role of the imagination in shaping geographic thought, perception, and models of the world is important to me as an artist.
I view my work as an ethical choice. In times of destruction, fear, and injustice creating ‘imaginative openings’ and holding the space for these openings is an artistic mandate. It is a way of offering ways of ‘being in and being engaged with the world.’
The purposeful choice of ignorance to the evidence of the climate crisis by current people in positions of power in the United States along with the self-serving, isolationist agenda threatening to dishonor the Paris Climate Accord makes the words of Yusoff and Gabrys ever more searing for me.
Given the ways in which we are collectively reshaping our environments, it is timely to develop projects that imagine how we might also reshape the political tools and practices of citizenship that allow us to engage with climate change.
* Goralink, L., Nelson, M.P., Gosnell, H. et al. J. Environ Sci (2016) pp.1-13.