Tag: environmental issues

perception: part one

noun: perception; plural noun: perceptions
  • the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.
    • the state of being or process of becoming aware of something through the senses.
    • a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.
    • intuitive understanding and insight.
      the neurophysiological processes, including memory, by which an organism becomes aware of and interprets external stimuli.


(For the purposes of this blog post, I am concentrating on the second part of this definition, the mental impressions we have of ourselves and the world around us.)

I have been pondering this term perception for quite some time. It crept into my brain during the elections, most specifically to explain the outcome. I began to realize that it didn’t matter what Hillary Clinton did or did not do, the perception that she did something wrong (or even illegal) was strong enough to stop people from voting for her.

Perception is much different than reality or truth. Perception is based on all sorts of factors, some of which have nothing to do with the truth and everything to do with our backgrounds, our experiences, our morals, our wishes and our desires. It is not quantifiable, nor is it something that can be predicted on an individual level.

There are many ways that perception has been wandering around my thoughts lately. I had actually planned several other posts about it, but I think they will have to wait. This morning there was an image on facebook that hit me squarely in the gut.

The image was of a lion lying dead among the rocks.

Considering how many images flash before my eyes as I scroll through facebook, it is fair to ask, why did this one catch my eye? I don’t have a pet lion, I don’t go to the zoo often enough to get to know the lions personally. I can’t say I have even seen this lion.

Here’s the thing. Tullamore was a part of a (now) rare group of lions. Most of the time we see lions living in the savannah, moving through the grass, showing up around waterholes and hunting the plentiful game. The lions of the west coast of Namibia are desert lions. They live in some of the harshest conditions, little water, little vegetation and little game. They have lived in this area for a very long time and once were pretty plentiful. Then came man. And cows. And other livestock.

In an area that is short on game, it makes sense that a herd of cows would be seen as a gift to a predator. It would also make sense that the owners of the cows would take great offense at having their livelihood eaten by a big cat. Here is where the perception thing comes in.

I am a rich American. I take a trip to Africa, stay in a lodge in the middle of a dessert for three days. I hear about these animals and I see the beauty of them. That is, after all, why I am there. I am a woman from the east coast of the US where there are no predators and I get to stand in front of a cheetah, or a rhinoceros, or to get close enough to practically touch an elephant and it seems like a dream. In the safety of my vehicle or standing beside the tracker with his gun, I am allowed the luxury of “being with” the animals, seeing them walk, run, play and hunt. I come home to watch countless videos of animals in the wild or Planet Earth or read books about how many species are going extinct. I view, from afar, the devastation of man around the world. And I judge. And I grieve. My perception of the death of a lion is based on my need to pet the fox when I was three (my mother nixed that idea quickly). My heartache comes from knowing that “Tullamore” was the last of a group of five male lions in the area (they were called the Five Musketeers). His four compadres were shot or poisoned over the last few years by farmers. I grieve because I met the guy who has has been studying these proud animals, a man who spends much of his life in isolation, and loves it. Unless someone kills an animal.

So what would be my perception if I were a Namibian farmer who does not see any monetary gain and many deficits with the lion population? What if I wanted to send my children to a good school, or build new fences, or dig a new well and a lion started to eat my profits? What if I am of a generation that grew up killing predators without judgement, in fact was rewarded with a pat on the back from my fellow farmers? How would I perceive lions then?

I don’t know. That is the thing about perception. You can’t always tell how you would react if you were in someone else’s shoes. I can only hope to feel compassion for this person. It is tough, it is a stretch for me, at least until I stop feeling so very angry and sad. Until I stop feeling. But right now, my perception of the person who poisoned this lion is that they are not a good person. I don’t know them, I will never meet them, but at this moment I hate them.

I will end by showing three photos. The first two are of cubs in the sand dunes. The last is of Dr. “Flip” Stander monitoring the lions. Despite the setbacks of the last couple of years, he continues to work with the growing population of lions, as well as finding ways of connecting with the surrounding human population. Looking at these pictures makes me smile. Life includes death, even if it doesn’t feel good. But for now, I want to concentrate on the living…






explain it, please

It seems that a good portion of my life has been spent trying to explain what I do. I moved from NYC to Charleston, SC in the mid 80’s. I had been dancing at the Martha Graham studio for a year. When people in SC asked me what I did I said I was a modern dancer. “Oh!” they replied, “is that what they do on Broadway?” I was left with trying to explain what modern dance is and how it is different than Broadway jazz. I have to admit that sometimes I just answered yes and left it at that.

Three years later we moved to Baltimore so that I could get my Master’s degree in Dance/Movement Therapy. Uh huh. Really. I got extremely good at the explanation…”it’s a psychotherapy using movement as a means of communicating feelings and healing the mind. Think how much better you feel after getting exercise and you have an idea of how it might work. Because it’s a non-verbal way of communicating it works particularly well with autistic kids and Alzheimer’s patients although it is useful with many different populations.” People often still didn’t get it, they seemed to think I taught dance classes to, well, I’m not sure who I was supposed to be teaching dance to.  So I changed the subject.

After I got my degree I started working with polymer clay. (e.g. Fimo, Sculpey, Primo) I began to make small items but soon graduated to sculptures of lizards, snakes, frogs and iguanas. Each of these was covered with a pattern made from the clay. The technique was called millefiori. Often someone would come into my booth and ask how I could paint such fine lines. “Oh, I am not painting them”, I said. “It’s called millefiori and it is an ancient glass bead technique. I make a long log or “cane” with strips of colored clay, somewhat like a sushi roll or spiral cookies, slice through it and lay the slices on the form of the animal.” “Ah”, one woman said, “and then you paint it”. I could see she just was not going to get the picture so I said to her “Yes, then I paint it.” But of course there was no paint involved. I started to bring unfinished “canes” that had been baked so that people could actually visualize what it was that I was trying to describe.

Autumn Gardening; polymer clay leaves...detail
Autumn Gardening; polymer clay leaves…detail…an example of millefiori.

So why am I bringing this up now? Well, because once again I have dived into the murky waters of a difficult concept and am trying to figure out how to explain/describe it. What exactly IS Bio art anyway???

Goooooood question…

I will try to do this as simply as possible without using all the multi-syllable words that scientists and bio artist like to use.

Basically, in my mind, bio art is an umbrella term for an art made from biological forms. These forms can be real, manufactured or symbolically similar which then get manipulated to create art. One could argue, using this definition, that landscapers, gardeners, dog breeders and chefs (especially microbiological chefs) are bio-artists. Indeed they are. When I weed something out of my garden I am declaring “This is a weed, this is not pretty to me, I want it gone.” And I manipulate the earth to look the way I want it to. And rose gardeners have been practicing bio art for centuries as they manipulate roses to create different colors, sizes and smells.

There are artists, though, who have stretched across the bio-art sphere to use biological matter, computer programs and algorithms, and microscopy to create art that either tells a story or begs to begin a dialogue about what the biological sciences are doing in today’s world. Artists like Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Alice Micelli are doing projects that couldn’t have been conceived of twenty years ago. Dewey-Hagborg took DNA from cigarette butts and chewing gum found in NYC, added it to a computer program that came up with an algorithm of what the individual people might have looked like and then created life-masks from the information. Micelle spent several years traveling to Chernobyl with X-ray paper, seeing if she could take x-rays of the country simply by leaving the paper there for a few months. (she did.) The first of these projects, while not your typical “pretty” art, begs the viewer to start thinking about the role of DNA in our daily lives. Do we really want to give up control of who we are to a bunch of strangers? Micelli’s work shows just how much man has created “dead zones” on this earth. Places where no one can live, ever again…or at least not for several more generations. You can see some videos of her work here.

Oh my, this has been a chatty post hasn’t it? There is absolutely no way to do this subject any justice in a blog, but I hope you have a little bit more of an idea of what my residency at SVA was like. Needless to say, some of the lectures where a bit off the charts for me. I am, after all a simple soul, and old-fashioned to boot. But I’m guessing some of the lectures have already creeped into my psyche and may show up in some way in the next few years.

a little rain may fall

Recipe for Erosion:

Take one mild mannered stream


add some snow fall

snowball snowball snowball

No, I said snow FALL

not snow BALL

spring snow
spring snow

Wait for it to melt

into the stream.

a little snow melt
a little snow melt

Let it sit for a few days


add rain.

A LOT of


add some water
add some water
miniature waterfall
miniature waterfall
making new pathways
making new pathways
following the flow
following the flow

Do this several times,

then see what it does

to the banks of

the little stream.


This recipe works particularly well

if all roads

and driveways

are paved


new housing

and commercial developments

are happening

close by.