It’s been a while since I’ve featured a children’s story on Ekostories, but after this month’s spotlight on environmental artists and last week’s look at the need for hopeful tales in uncertain times, I thought it would be good to cover a story that employs both art and words to convey wonder to the next generation. Written by Elin Kelsey and featuring artwork by Soyeon Kim, You are Stardust from Owlkids Books is a picture book filled with tiny tales about the fascinating and unexpected ways that humans are part of nature.
The book begins with the line, “you are stardust”, a metaphor and scientific truth popularized by the late Carl Sagan (he actually said star-stuff, but stardust seems to be attached to him as well). With each page, Kelsey reveals the surprising linkages between the world and our very being across space and time: The salt in our systems is akin to the salt in the ocean; we down the same water dinosaurs drank millions of years ago; nature’s elemental forces also courses through our bodies and minds.
Click to enlarge. Image with permission from Owlkids Books.
Kim’s dioramas accompanies each fascinating factoid, crafted from a multitude of real materials with techniques of fine sketching and digital compositing. The book ends where it began, with a connection back to the cosmos; only this time the line reads, “WE are all stardust.”
One of the coolest things about the blogging community is connecting with other like-minded individuals. I recently had the honour to guest blog over at Earthninja, a great blog by fellow 2013 Canadian Weblog Award winner Emily Nichol that focuses on conservation, nature, and science communication.
While tossing around ideas of things to write about, I found inspiration in an intriguing talk by Dr. Elin Kelsey, author, environmental educator, Rachel Carson Center fellow, and a past professor who shaped a lot of my interests and writings:
In her video, Kelsey speaks about the importance of telling stories of hope and resilience even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.
It wasn’t my intention to continue with the art theme. But as the rule of three calls and I learn more about writing and blogging, I found myself more inclined to follow intuition than push through to produce work that doesn’t feel right. Perhaps it was just easier to showcase other people’s incredible work instead of doing research for a long piece. Given the choice between being attuned and growing lazy, I’m sticking with the former interpretation.
I’ve been a fan of Albertus Gorman’s work over at The Artist at Exit 0 Riverblog ever since I began blogging in 2012. For the better part of the last decade, Gorman has used materials washed up at Ohio State Park to create sculptures and craft stories that explore the impacts we have on the places we inhabit. Some of his work from Ohio Falls is now featured in The Potential in Everything, an exhibition at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana.
In a recent post exploring the evolution of nature writing, we chatted about what makes for great art. Gorman shared an illuminating comment as it relates to his journey:
“One person’s kitsch is another person’s masterpiece. I tread this path myself with my river art. I want my work to have a popular feel similar to the way folk art functions because I want what I am trying to communicate through it to reach a target audience that often doesn’t think about how creativity or conceptual art can be used to positively affect the environment. My own work has evolved over time to include objects, images, and now stories working in tandem with one another. There is some risk taking here and sometimes it works better times than others.”
Mulling this over, I decided to revisit his blog to find examples of how he uses art and writing to promote awareness around the environment. The following is a list of five of my favourite pieces he’s published over the past year:
Last week’s art by Greg Mort connected the intimate with the infinite. This week, I thought it would be interesting to explore art that delves into a world hidden from plain sight. With the use of x-ray radiography, medical physicist and artist Arie van’t Riet creates stunning glimpses into the inner workings of the natural world.
For me, van’t Riet’s photographs work on multiple levels. I enjoy the story of his path towards becoming an artist. In his work, I find a keen aesthetic judgement that balances an artist’s intention with the intrinsic beauty of the subject matter. Most importantly of all, I connect with his desire to showcase the vibrancy of life in his more complex pieces.
I first came across Greg Mort’s artwork while writing a piece on Carl Sagan’s The Pale Blue Dot. The image immediately drew my eye: Two apples situated against a black backdrop, one golden and freshly unwrapped; the other painted as the Earth. Attached to the stem of the pole, a blank price tag. Stewardship, the piece was called.
The image and title struck me. It forced me to contemplate, not for the first or last time, what stewardship truly entails, what value I place on the well-being of the world that sustains all. It both broadened and deepened my innate desire to care, as art can sometimes do.
With his work prominently displayed in museums, art galleries, and even the White House, I am honoured to have permission from Mort’s studio curator to feature and explore a few of my favourite works. As with other art-oriented Ekostories, I hope to let the visuals speak for themselves and allow you, the reader, the space and time to discover the stories they have to tell. So enjoy. If you are interested in my musings and questions, I’ve provided them as well.
When it’s due to interest or temperament, I’ve always been drawn to nature writing. For many, Its mere mention conjures up certain associations – bucolic landscapes, nostalgic meditations, longings for golden ages, of days lost. But nature writing has never been a static genre, and increasingly it transcends the conventional pastoral. Last month, I had the pleasure to listen in on a live chat with critically acclaimed authors Rebecca Solnit and Robert MacFarlane as they delved into the evolving form of nature writing. In this entry, I’d like to summarize a few points I connected strongly with. You can listen to the entire talk below:
If you want to follow along the timestamps I have provided in the post, you can also access the discussion directly on Orion Magazine’s website.