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Open Waters [Northwest Passage | Open Polar Sea | Arctic + Great Lakes Plastic]

On View Friday, December 13, 2019–Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Project Space   

Inspired by the 500-year history of Anglo expedition to find the Northwest Passage and an “open” Polar Sea, Open Waters is an interactive art installation that examines 21C realities of environmental and geopolitical change, in connection with the melting of the ice cap at the North Pole. Once a myth stubbornly adhered to in the face of cryogeographic impassibility, sailable waters have become an Arctic reality, reconfiguring the globe as we know it. Open Waters also processes the global circulation of microplastics: the sixth plastic gyre forming in the southern Arctic, due to ice transport and melt, and debris-gathering global currents, as well as plastic transport and deposition within the Great Lakes system, and its potential output, through the St. Lawrence Seaway, to the North Atlantic gyre.

This project is the latest work in a four-year collaboration among: poet Judith Goldman, Associate Professor of English and Director of the Poetics Program at the University at Buffalo; visual artist and artist bookmaker Andrea Wollensak, Professor of Art and Director of the Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology at Connecticut College; computer scientist Bridget Baird, Professor Emerita in Computer Science and Mathematics at Connecticut College; and composer/sound artist Brett Terry.

Major pieces in the Open Waters installation include: A unique, very large format, hybrid print-digital book of poems based on archival research across scientific, geographic, economic, literary, and political fields on the history of Arctic “exploration” and contemporary Arctic geopolitics and environmental degradation, including the rise of microplastics and extractive industries. Through user interaction, projections of digital generative art – changing animations of poetic text/graphics indexed to algorithms based on Arctic melting – will appear across each double-page spread of printed text. As the visitor turns the physical pages of the book, RFID tags embedded in each page signal the “turning” of a projected digital page.

A floor piece of seventeen slightly raised panels of etched glass that depicts a historical map of the route from Buffalo to the Northwest Passage; this floor assemblage incorporates locally collected used commodity plastics in various states of distress and post-consumer processing.

An interactive back wall that combines video and audio works based on icebreaking and shipping in the far North, and uses a Kinect motion sensor that responds to activity present in the room to alter the video and audio in real time, evoking effects of human disruption of the Arctic environment.
Large format photographs of plastic pollution in Buffalo waterways.

An animated, dynamic video projection that incorporates research poetry on plastics pollution in the Great Lakes system and new market conditions and politics of plastics recycling, bringing into focus the at-home and world-wide effects of plastic consumption. Creative texts contemplating plastics-centered society and culture are contributed by Buffalo middle- and high-school students, based on a multi-session environmental studies and creative writing workshop for youth 12-18 that was offered at Just Buffalo Literary Center, Oct.-Nov. 2019. Participating students are invited to read their work in the gallery space at the exhibition opening on Friday, Dec.13th at 5pm, and to return to view their work throughout the duration of the exhibition.

Two additional events connected with the exhibit will be hosted by the Burchfield Penney:
Thurs., Feb. 27th, 7-9pm: Contemporary Environmental Art & Poetics: Reflections & Performances: featuring Joshua Schuster, Department of English and Writing Studies, Western University (London, Ontario) and author of The Ecology of Modernism: American Environments and Avant-Garde Poetics; Evelyn Reilly, poet, author of Styrofoam; Anna Scime, media artist and nonfiction filmmaker, creator of Everyone Lives Downstream; and Judith Goldman. This panel will feature brief talks, poetry readings, and a video screening, and is sponsored in part by the UB Poetics Program.

Sat., Mar. 14th, 1:30-3:30pm: Microplastics in WNY & the Great Lakes Region: featuring presentations by Dr. Sherri “Sam” Mason, Sustainability Coordinator at Penn State Behrend and pioneering researcher of microplastics in the Great Lakes; Brian Smith, Associate Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment; and Liz Cute, Community Engagement Manager at Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper.
Open Waters gratefully acknowledges funding from the Global Warming Art Project grant (from Ben Perrone and the “Environment Maze” project donors); administered by Arts Services (ASI). The artists also wish to thank the Burchfield Penney Art Center, the Just Buffalo Writing Center (Travis Sharp, workshop leader, and Robin Jordan, Writing Center Coordinator), the Poetics Program at University at Buffalo, the Office of Sustainability at University at Buffalo (Erin Moscati), Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper (Liz Cute and Joel Bernosky), Citizens Campaign for the Environment (Brian Smith), Dr. Stephen Vermette (Department of Geography and Planning, Buffalo State University), Dr. Sam Mason, Anna Scime, and others in the WNY region who have contributed to this exhibit. An earlier iteration of Open Waters was funded in part by a 2017 seed grant from the Humanities Institute-Office of the Vice President for Research and Development at University at Buffalo.
Artist Bios

Judith Goldman is author of four books of poetry: Vocoder (Roof 2001), DeathStar/ Rico-chet (O Books 2006), l.b.; or, catenaries (Krupskaya 2011), and agon (The Operating System 2017), and has performed her work widely in the US, as well as internationally. As a poet, she is particularly interested in the aesthetic dimensions of scientific writing, radically mimetic, non-human uses of language that model environmental phenomena, and archival poetics that rub against the grain of dominant historical narratives. Also a literary critic of contemporary poetry and poetics, Goldman is an Associate Professor and the Director of the Poetics Program in the Department of English at University at Buffalo (SUNY, Buffalo).

Andrea Wollensak is a multimedia artist/designer. Her work spans media from tradtional and digital fabrication to generative-interactive systems and includes frequent collaborations across disciplines. Her site-based, data-inspired, and community-oriented work explores and is inspired by polarities such as public/private, memory/narrative, and environment/data. Wollensak’s work has been exhibited internationally, most notably at the Göteborg International Biennial of Contemporary Art and the Brno Biennial of Design. Her work has been supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, the International Artist Studio Program in Sweden, Banff Centre for the Arts, and the National Science Foundation. She has presented her artwork at numerous venues including ISEA, CAiiA, Generative Art, and College Art Association. Wollensak serves on the Advisory Council of Winterhouse Institute, a community of practice for social impact design educators. She is Professor of Art and Director of the Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology at Connecticut College.

Bridget Baird is a Professor Emerita in Computer Science and Mathematics at Connecticut College and a past Director of the Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology. Much of her past and current research examines the intersections among the arts and various technologies. Some of her projects include investigating an archaeological site in Ecuador through virtual reality and digital methods, exploring music and dance through motion capture and multiple modalities, using digital techniques and algorithms to better understand and mine historical documents, and more recently, addressing climate change and environmental concerns by using generative art. Baird collaborated, as a Fulbright scholar, with colleagues in both Mexico and Ecuador. Involvement with the local community has also been important to her and a constant interest has been to increase the number of women in the sciences. In this current project she is pleased to create generative art computer programs that produce changing views of the Arctic and incorporate visual, poetic, and audio components.

Brett Terry is a composer and sound artist when not busy with his daily life as a software engineer. His electro-acoustic, choral and chamber compositions have been performed at venues such as SEAMUS, ICMC, ISEA, CAiiA, and Sound Culture in addition to collaborating with visual artists on numerous audiovisual works. As an associate editor of Computer Music Journal (MIT Press), he curated a special issue on Visual Music.


Open Waters is supported by a significant grant from the Global Warming Art Project Fund of the Art Services Initiative of Western New York. Many thanks to ASIWNY.