Archive for ‘Environment’

July 27, 2012

Sometimes I use big words…

Occasionally, I will use long or obscure words in my blog posts.  It’s not because I’m especially smart.  Or a pompous ass (I’m not sure when it started, but the concept that having and using a broad vocabulary makes one an uppity elitist is a conspiracy instigated by idiots that has begun to catch on with the masses.  Evidence of this can be seen when the otherwise astute and enlightened Greek giggles like a schoolboy when I use funny-sounding, potentially dirty words he doesn’t know, like “coccyx”, or when, during a heated debate, a vacuous silence follows my utterance of, ironically, the word “sycophantic”, and it’s abundantly clear the Greek has no idea what it means but refuses to admit it lest he undermine his entire argument.)

The truth is, in part, that I’m trying to justify the months I spent studying for the GRE.  A prerequisite for pursuing graduate education, never in my life have I known more ways to describe someone as lethargic or something as commonplace.  How quiescent had I become with those quotidian definitions!  At this point I’d also planned to launch into a rant about the relative rarity of some of the words STILL found on the GRE.  “Who still uses the word ‘Lilliputian’ nowadays?” I had inquired, “Who, I ask you, who!?!”  Well, apparently, the answer is this guy, about a day after I began writing this post: a writer from Slate magazine who, following the announcement of the divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, reacts to the public’s perceptions that all miniature men are monocratic megalomaniacs.  I then posted his article to the Facebook wall of my debonair yet somewhat diminutive Greek…because these things amuse me.  The adjective Lilliputian, for the sake of curious parties, is always capitalized because it originally described the inhabitants of Lilliput, the imaginary land in Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”.  You know, the tiny, little guys who tied our protagonist to their beach with long ropes and wooden stakes.  So, quite obviously, Lilliputian means very, very small!

I also enjoy reading classic literature, books written back in the centuries where the people who wrote books were well-spoken and erudite.  (The fact that both Snooki and The Situation have published books makes a compelling albeit ultimately unsound argument for the historically enforced illiteracy of the lower classes.  It’s come to this, “Jersey Shore” cast members: you’ve got me longing for the serfdom of the Middle Ages!  Although I can’t imagine I’m the first person to opt for the Black Death over reading your books.  Incidentally, I wouldn’t be heartbroken if, when they were babies, their parents had read Swift’s other work, the gleefully satirical “A Modest Proposal”, and taken it to heart.  But I digress.)

These authors sought artistic and philosophical pursuits instead of idle time and were able to create such richly beautiful works of art without the resources we have today.  Believe me, you would not want to be subjected to the imbecilic ramblings that this blog would become without my easy access to Google and Wikipedia. Finally, I also read a lot of articles by critics- of food, music, movies, books, you name it.  While slightly less lofty than classical literature, they also often use arcane language, sometimes because they are sophisticated and knowledgeable, sometimes because they are supercilious A-holes eager to legitimize the fact that they are just bad-mouthing another’s work by sounding really, really smart.

Because of these things, it often happens that I’ll encounter a word I don’t know and, being the diligent, perpetual student that I am, I look it up.  Well, when Googling the word “vicissitudes” one recent afternoon, I stumbled upon another of my favorite things: new and surprising discoveries of things I find awesome.

Vicissitudes, meaning a change or variation in the course of something, is also a breathtaking (literally and figuratively) underwater sculpture by English artist, Jason deCaires Taylor, commissioned in 2006 and located in Molinere Bay off the island of Grenada, West Indies. It depicts 26 children holding hands in a circle.  The Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park is composed of four of his works including Vicissitudes and is the first public underwater sculpture garden.

His work is not only stunning, it’s also significant.  Cast from real people, his sculptures are made of marine grade cement, have a neutral pH, and actually encourage the growth of coral reefs. The sculptures are made to become artificial coral reefs and are, consequently, significantly altered over time by the natural environment.  The water itself even alters the appearance of the sculptures given the unique refractive properties of water and the constant variations in water currents and depth of the ocean, making the title of his most acclaimed piece even more à propos.

Naturally, Taylor is also a conservationist, and he has, in my overawed opinion, found a truly ingenious way to send a vital message that is unusually positive (although, also in my opinion, it is quite difficult to be too vocal, negative, or cloying when discussing such a critical situation as the imminently impending extinction of the world’s coral reefs).  An inspiring and welcome addition to the eco-art movement.  And unsurprisingly, the artist has gained international accolades for his ability to seamlessly blend art and conservationism.

Says the artist: “I am trying to portray how human intervention or interaction with nature can be positive and sustainable, an icon of how we can live in a symbiotic relationship with nature. Finally I believe we have to address some of the crucial problems occurring in our oceans at this moment in time and by using human forms I can connect with a wider audience”.

There is also an educational component to his pieces.  Alluvia (a derivation of “alluvial”, pertaining to the soil deposited by a stream), in the River Stour in Canterbury, Kent contains a female figure made entirely of recycled glass positioned alongside her concrete copy.  The pose of her figure responds to the flow of the water and acts as an environmental barometer of water quality based on the amount of algal growth on the figures.  And in 2008, in collaboration with the children’s television program “Smart Art”, he produced the educational art piece The Inverted Solitude at the National Diving and Activity Centre in England.  A male figure is suspended upside down from a floating platform.  When viewed from below, an upright reflection of the figure appears as if standing on the water’s surface.

His most recent work and largest endeavor is the Museo Subaquatico de Arte off the coast of Cancun, Mexico.  It is the world’s largest underwater sculpture garden.  Within it, La Evolución Silenciosa (“The Silent Evolution”, another allusion to change) is the largest underwater collection of art.  Installed in November 2010, it consists of 403 life-size cement people.  Viewed from a distance, the group of statues takes the shape of an eye.  As with his sculptures in Grenada, the aim of this installation is to draw tourists away from the natural reefs and allow them to recuperate and, most basically, to provide new habitats for marine life thus increasing the biomass of local ecosystems.  Taylor and his team take great care to choose locations that optimally attract tourists, avoid strong currents or tidal patterns, and are ideal growing conditions for coral; they also choose the correct times for coral spawning.

The artist’s website can be found here:  Evidently, he is part of an exhibition in New York City right now that ends (Gah!) TOMORROW.  Ah well, it was a fortunate discovery all the same.  The next time I’m in Grenada…

Given my love of marine science, conservation, and beauty, this is an exemplary example of the benefits of constantly seeking knowledge in everyday life.  How I love the occasions when these things just work out!

September 26, 2011

A sad day for women and the environment

I was perusing NPR today and stumbled upon something tragic: 2004 Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai died yesterday of cancer.  It was truly saddening news; I audibly sucked in my breath and my eyes got all watery like we’d been closefriends.  She was remarkable and while I’ve only known about her since 2004 when she won her Nobel Peace Prize, she has dedicated her life to conservation and is an empowering force for women all over the world.  She founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, which taught African women to plant trees to protect the environment and be more self-sufficient.  Small beans, you say?  Well, through her dedication and over the decades, it spread and expanded and became a global phenomenon and made Wangari Maathai an international icon of environmentalism.  This also had the added dual effect of emboldening women’s rights in Africa and rebelling against the oppressive Kenyan government of the time; it began as a women’s movement and had many pro-democracy projects on the side such as registering voters and pressing for consitutional reform and greater freedom of expression.  She was an environmentalist, a feminist, and a political activist all in one!  Not to mention the fact that she also found the time to be the first woman in East Africa to earn a doctorate (in biology…woo!) and a professorship at the University of Nairobi.  And she was, of course, the first African woman to win the Nobel prize.  Her life was truly incredible, and my little blurb does not do it justice!

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