ARTIST STATEMENT _ January 2018
Science is the lens through which I understand the world. Paleontology and evolutionary biology are particularly revealing because they deal with the history of life-- with mortality, chance, and earths deeply interconnected web of plants, animals, geologic and climatic conditions. This is the basis from which I think about us humans and about our proper place in the world. The study of nature was once, with good reason, a branch of philosophy. It still is, arguably, the most rational basis for considering how to live and how to die.
My work explores the boundary between natural history and philosophy, seeking paradigm change by contextualizing we humans in the deep history of life on earth. It is only through science that we can understand the deep past of our planet, its powerful cycles of change, extinction, and creation.
Cognitive neuroscience is helping us understand the frailty of our untutored understandings of life. We are compelled to make stories to explain what we dont understand. We focus on our immediate hour-by-hour lives and emotions; we delete past history from our attention, thereby trashing huge amounts of information that could help us better cope with both present and future. We are literally blind to the unexpected and believe what we want to or are trained to believe; we see the world through our preconceptions. Science can snatch away our blindfolds and allow us to understand how the world really works.
We are not as a species doing a good job of integrating ourselves with the complex ecosystems that have evolved over millennia, and which have produced this unique era in the history of lifethat of a relatively stable world filled with the most bio-diverse and beautiful suite of plants and animals in the history of life. What most of us do not know is that this complexly balanced system produces the very conditions that support usthe very air we breathe, our rain, our plants, our livable temperatures. These are not guaranteed conditions. Far from it; Earth has experienced multiple massive ecosystem collapses in the pastthe Great Extinctions. Conditions have been very different and very hostile to our sort of life multiple times in the past, and could easily become so again. This is what knowledge of the deep history of life on earth teaches us. It teaches us that the very air we breathe, blue oceans, rain, abundant creatures and plants to eatare fragile. The oceans could turn purple, the air could become poisonous with hydrogen sulfide, all our current plants and animals could die and never return.
We humans through our sheer numbers are now equivalent to the massive geological forces that produced past Great Extinctions. We are powerful.
Thankfully, complex systems are resilient, and Earths life systems can recover if we let them. Human ingenuity could, with proper paradigm change in the way we conceive of ourselves and with uncorrupted leadership, figure out how to live sustainably. Because we are story-telling and irrational animals, paradigm change in the stories we tell, our beliefs, our myths, and our ethics must occur before truly sustainable change can happen. Because of our sheer numbers we alter, usually dominate, and often destroy every ecosystem we touch; we are consequently at an urgent crossroads. The path we are on, characterized by uncontrolled population increase and rampant consumerism without conservation, will lead to an inevitable system crash, total misery and a greatly impoverished world.
It is our children who will need to grasp this evolving world we are in, with all its challenges. My thought is that today we need to urgently preserve what exists, establish corridors for plants and animals to survive the climate changes we have unleashed upon ourselves, and both seek and cherish verifiable information about how life really works. We humans are powerful. Though at times it feels futile, individual action does count; government policy affects millions of humans and can either restore or destroy the ecosystems that support life. We can think, speak, write, vote. Scientists are urging our government to base policy on verifiable information rather than ideology; we can reach out and teach our children science. We can both hope and act so that willful blindness and greed shall not prevail.
Nature and the study of its creatures is my solace. I am immensely pleased that scientists are now confirming that animalsyes, even fishhave minds, emotions, consciousness; that plants are aware of the world in ways we are still too deficient in imagination to comprehend; that forest trees have social lives; that the natural world is necessary to the human psyche in ways subconscious and unimaginable. The world is miraculous. My current work depicts our place in deep time, in nature, in the cycles of life, death, and transformation. I paint the beauty of the natural world, complicated by human nature.
Brooklyn, January 2018