Reflections on a Quiet Earth Day

Pictured Above: Artist Diane Tufts’ “Resilience, Portraits from July 2018 – January 2019,” now on view as part of Southampton Arts Center’s “eARTh” exhibition.

Earth Day was cautiously celebrated on the East End this year, after being overshadowed by the pandemic in April of 2020, but there haven’t yet been big parties or crowded galleries welcoming in the spring and our ongoing relationship with the planet we call home.

But love for the earth is still written on the sleeves of our community, particularly among artists, who have long been out ahead of the curve on our relationship to the intangible things in life.

As the Southampton Arts Center unrolled its stunning, four-month-long exhibition of eARTh April 17, the Hamptons Doc Fest gathered together some of the region’s most involved environmental advocates for a discussion on Earth Day, April 22, of what we can all do to help our planet and our local environment.

The discussion is part of the Doc Fest’s spring “Docs Equinox,” a series of Earth-inspired films. Here are more details.

The East End Green Team: (Clockwise from top left) Daniela Kronemeyer, Shane Weeks, Alexandra Talty, Scott Bluedorn, Gianna Volpe and John Robertson.

This “East End Green Team” conversation, comprised of Daniela Kronemeyer, who is organizing the programming associated with SAC’s eARTh exhibit; Shinnecock environmental activist and artist Shane Weeks; journalist Alexandra Talty; landscape manager John Robertson and artist Scott Bluedorn, was moderated by Gianna Volpe.

“All of us have seen a lot of changes in the past 30 years,” said Ms. Talty. “My number one is water quality.” 

She added that homeowners can directly address this issue by applying for grant money to replace their outdated septic systems.

Mr. Weeks said he thinks the starting point for conversation is our community’s disconnection from nature, working from the Shinnecock idea of “all of our relations,” which is about acknowledging our connection to all of creation.

Mr. Weeks added that salt marshes, held together by clumps of cordgrass and ribbed mussels, are all that is protecting the border of Shinnecock lands. He added that members of the Shinnecock Nation have been planting oysters in Shinnecock Bay since the 1970s and “Shinnecock remains the cleanest part of Shinnecock Bay today.”

Mr. Bluedorn said he’s excited about how kelp, which traps carbon from the atmosphere, can be grown alongside oysters in the region’s growing oyster farming industry.

“There are a lot of things people can do on their own to contribute to our environment — it means driving less, buying less and, if you garden, using as little fertilizer as possible,” he said.

Mr. Robertson highlighted the process of “unlawning,” turning areas of your property over to beneficial plantings.

“Many of our clients think their lawns have to be these beautiful, bright green pasture-type things, or they think more plantings equals more maintenance,” he said. “That’s not necessarily the case. When you are maintaining plantings, it’s more hand pruning and perennials that you cut once or twice a year, and they have deeper roots that are going into the water table.”

Artist Cindy Pease Roe’s found object egrets in the foreground, with Janet Culbertson’s “Tanker in the Grand Canyon” behind at SAC’s “eARTh.”

Ms. Kronemeyer said that development on the East End is going to continue to be the number one issue here.

“The most important thing is our community coming together and having these conversations, and to be part of the environmental networks out here,” she said.

To that end, Ms. Kronemeyer’s program associated with eARTh, SAC’s current exhibition expertly curated by departing artistic director Amy Kirwin, involves a whole host of local environmental groups.

“We’ll have outdoor documentaries on the lawn, panel discussions, talks and workshops revolving around all the issues covered in this conversation,” she said.

“Kristian Brevik’s “Whalefall” and Thomas Deininger’s “Birds” at the Southampton Arts Center.

The exhibition, on view through July 11, is stunning. Here are some words of wisdom culled from artists’ statements accompanying the show:

“Human decisions made over many decades will lead to unimaginable social and physical disruptions. Life is full of unintended consequences, so the paintings are about shock and mystery, not predictions.” — John Haigney

“In true George Orwellian doublespeak, industry calls its sites “parks,” clear cutting “making open space,” and killing “harvesting.” Orwell inspired me with his determined fatalism, and Rachel Carson motivated me with her scientific truths about the climate crisis. Both solidified my commitment as an environmental painter.” — Janet Culbertson

Lauren Ruiz & Cornell Cooperative Extension’s “Zone of Loss” is “a solemn monument to the soil profile and its E horizon, or the zone where organic matter is lost. The installation redirects attention to the geological processes that occur independent of human action. Sound recordings of burrowing earthworms produce the experience of decelerating time, alluding to the decay and transformation slowly transpiring beneath the ground.… It places the human in a subordinate position to planetary physics, while creating a space to mourn the loss of soil and possibility associated with our failed stewardship of the land.”

Diane Tuft’s “Rising Tide Sinking Earth” “focuses on the dire effects of rising tide on the disparate coastal communities of the Florida Keys, Chesapeake Bay, the Pacific Islands of Kiribati and the marshall Islands, and Bangladesh:

“Our earth will continue to face an escalation of this destruction unless we change our dependency on fossil fuels and plastics and move to more sustainable solutions.”

From Rossa Cole’s “Foot Bridge Over Apathy Bay”:

“Unknown stars on a foggy night, tides pull oceans to rocky shores, filling the estuary with frothy liquid promise and unforeseen danger, yet there we stand, frozen, on a footbridge over apathy bay.

Here’s more information on the programming associated with the Southampton Arts Center’s “eARTh.”

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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