April 26, 2017

Eggs of Concrete - Over But Not Easy

The long awaited tree removal finally took place this spring. We had two immense pine trees downed last autumn by Hurricane Matthew. Like many folks in Orangeburg, we were put on a long waiting list for tree removal. Months rolled by, with everything in disarray and no way to get to the broken fence and the steady accumulation of seasonal debris. In a final act of exasperation, my husband contracted with city workers to come over to our house after work at the local park. They removed the trees alright, but left a path of destruction in the wake of the heavy equipment. Insurance covered neither the property damage, nor the damage from the removal. Cement walls were toppled, hillsides gauged out, gardens plowed under and a large cement platform in the corner of the yard cracked beyond repair. So for the last three months, I rolled up my sleeves and set to work repairing the yard as best as I could on my own. During the restoration, I made a number of discoveries and even found inspiration for some art work.

Inspiration can come from unusual sources. The only art work I completed recently, other than my giant painted snakes for science, were paintings of large egg shapes. Looking at them one might conclude that they are symbols of life or fertility. They are not. They were inspired by the shapes of the huge cement slabs I was trying to remove on my own but could not - until I carved them in to egg shapes and rolled them down my driveway. The largest cement "eggs" had to be manually rolled out to the street. The smaller ones, albeit still quite large, could be rolled in to a wheelbarrow and taken out that way.

My three paintings of cement eggs were painted on Masonite. I found that the stamps I had created for my science snakes fit nicely in to the oblong shapes. The acrylic paint was mixed with mica dust and the impasto texture with washes on top created a nice texture - like paint on a rock face.

For the final painting, I used sized paper. Here I used a number of large and small stamps. The small round stamps were inspired by the granite stones found in the cement aggregate. The large leaf stamps were fashioned after the leaves from the magnolia tree I passed on my route to the street. In the very center of my concrete egg, I placed a red print from a stone seal that was carved for me by a Chinese calligrapher some decades ago. The words read "persist until the very end." Three months was a long time to persist in cement removal.

April 24, 2017

Science Snakes and the Science March in Columbia, South Carolina - and a Sister in Sarasota

Saturday, April 22 arrived. That long awaited date for the Earth Day/Science march on Washington was here. It was time to debut my science snakes at the sister march in Columbia, SC. The snakes, painted with elaborate designs of acrylic washes, mono printing with large stamps, mica dust and graphite, were stuffed the day before and their "rattle" tails added. In keeping with the Earth Day theme, for the most part the snakes were stuffed with recycled materials. The narrow snakes came in to firm three dimensional being when filled with large plastic gallon jugs for bottled water. The thicker snakes were filled with a combination of bubble wrapped plastic gallon jugs as well as recycled Styrofoam peanuts. To ensure a good fit and prevent leakage of the peanuts, these were first wrapped in recycled plastic supermarket bags - lest my science snakes become the giant peanut pooping pythons. Stuffing the snakes took much longer than anticipated. I learned from previous experience that if the peanuts are not condensed enough, the snake becomes floppy and difficult to carry. So I rather tediously chopped up the Styrofoam peanuts before stuffing each bag.

The open center section of each of the shorter snakes ( front and back of the larger snakes) was sealed with velcro. Placing individual bags inside the snakes as well as using units of plastic gallon jugs enabled me to pull one of these out of the center section in order to collapse the snakes in to halves or thirds. Modest engineering skills to be sure, but this did enable us to fit these giant serpents in to the back of our van.

Thankfully, we had help. Our friend and colleague Si Hui, who teaches Chinese at the nearby university, rode in with my husband and I to Columbia. We were preceded by our friends Lee Malerich and her husband Glen, who took two snakes in the back of their car. Since Lee and Glen made it to the State House ahead of us, meeting up with daughter and grandson, they obligingly paraded around the state house grounds with the Vaccine Snake and the National Parks snake. The youngest activist for science of their entourage, carried the head of the snake.

It was a sunny and hot day. I was much too over-heated to carry snakes, let alone stand and listen to the talks. Yet and interesting solution presented itself to this strained body: the snakes fit almost perfectly on the steps of the State House. So there we placed them there - like offerings from some giant cat of mythological proportions. I then sequestered myself under various shade trees and on the dark side of walls, dousing water on my face to keep my dysautonomia at bay. To my delight, and to the glee of everyone who helped, the snakes were photographed numerous times. One dramatic view even made its way to The State newspaper.

The artful science snakes were a colorful attraction, and hopefully encouraged participation. I thought of the one snake who was not present, The Jade Snake for the EPA. I had sent him off to my cousin in Sarasota for their sister march. My cousin graciously offered to sew this for me, as I had no sewing machine and sewing these things by hand was getting quite tedious. The picture at right features EPA snake marching along in Sarasota.

There were numerous other very creative signs at the state house march; A Don’t Tread on DNA sign, a man dressed in a lab coat and leaf underwear bearing a sign which read, "Without science you are naked and afraid." I could not see many of these closely as the security officers at the march told me that I was obliged to sit by my snakes. So I was rather glued to my spot at the state house steps, thwarted in my desire to mingle and visit booths.

What I could do, but also sometimes just barely due to a hearing deficit, was listen to the speeches. There were sixteen presenters altogether, representing scientists, science teachers, science advocates, two poets, and spiritual leaders. For the heat of the day, and the frailty of my body, it was probably sixteen too many. (Indeed, I noticed that other satellite science marches, such as the one in Asheville, NC limited their speakers to four) And yet provocative phrases from their talks made their way to my ears and in to my consciousness from time to time - enough to warrant closer scrutiny and investigation. But how?

Who has not attended a rally, heard talks while distracted by time, weather, and discomfort, and wondered what they might have missed? For most rally attendees with robust attention spans and stalwart bodies, hopefully not as much as myself. And yet, the forcefulness of emcee Arik Bjorn’s exhortations to make the science march a continuum did resonate to my soul and intellect, as did his stern warning about the dire state of affairs with regard to South Carolina’s standing in education nationally. It was serious enough stuff to inspire me to review my program notes and contact all presenters personally to inquire about transcripts of speeches.

Fortunately the first person to respond to my inquiry was keynote speaker professor Hector Flores, from the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics. His was a short, yet beautifully written speech which encapsulated all the exaltation and wonder of science along with the trepidation about how scientific details may be lost in the deluge of social media discourse. I was glad to have the opportunity to peruse his statements again as it touched upon my own concerns regarding social media - great for staying in touch, not always good for accuracy or depth. And I loved the allusions to Darwin and Wallace. As an artist also in possession of a biology degree, some of my favorite writings come from 19th century science texts illustrated by the authors. (Alexander Von Humboldt comes to mind here). https://www.scgssm.org/sites/default/files/march_for_science_talk_april_22_2017.pdf

Professor Duncan Buell, from the University of South Carolina, had his speech on Computer Science and Engineering already online for review. It was an interesting reflection on how we may forget how relatively new the internet really is and how support for cyber security is so crucial, given the vast amount of data on line. Vulnerable databases do make one a little itchy just thinking about it.

Today I packed away my painted snakes, as I await correspondence. I look forward to keeping the dialogue open and minds receptive.