Ruth Wallen – Cascading Memorials

During Goddard College‘s MFA-IA  2012 winter residency faculty member Ruth Wallen presented “The Gallery as a Site of Meaningful Engagement”, where through her current exhibition Cascading Memorials, at The Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla, CA, she takes us through the quickly changing landscape of San Diego county. According to Wallen, an ecological artist, San Diego county has the highest rate of threaten and endangered species in the continental USA. The county has also experienced rapid urbanization with its population surge of 60,000 residents to 3,000,000 in the last 100 years. Wallen offers seven questions or phrases throughout her exhibition. The question “As roots are exposed, what truths are revealed?” is beside an impressive photo montage of tree roots exposed from erosion which spans 6 feet in width. Another query which Wallen poses is “how would we treat canyons if we regarded them as the lungs and circulatory system of [the] San Diego ecosystem? “. A special part of the exhibit is “a place to grieve” memorial where the viewer becomes a participant by sharing a story of their loss within their own home’s ecosystem. Untitled, Ruth Wallen, 2011 Wallen closed her presentation with a quote by Malidome Some in The Healing Wisdom of Africa In indigenous Africa, “one cannot conceive of a community that does not grieve. In my village, people cry every day. Villagers believe that Westerners are afraid of emotion because they are afraid of a loss of control. Until grief is restored in the West as the starting place where the modern man and woman might find peace, the culture will continue to abuse and ignore the power of water, and in turn will be fascinated with fire.”

and her own poetic and powerful words:

“I grieve for the dying trees—trees weakened by drought, infested by beetles and felled by fire. I understand that fire, pestilence and drought are part of ecological cycles that have occurred for millennia, but it is the conflation and acceleration of these pressures caused by climate change and rapid urbanization that concerns me so deeply. I mourn the loss of trees throughout the western forests. I grieve for Hermes coopers, Quino checkerspots, Coastal California gnatcatchers, San Diego fairy shrimp and all of the species, common only fifty years ago, which are now disappearing. I also grieve for missed opportunities. When I first moved to the region, one could walk through the chaparral from I-5 almost all the way to 1-15. It’s hard to believe that the future urbanizing area approved by voters only in 1985 is now almost entirely covered with sprawling homes. Voters mandated that recent developments offer modest improvements–more affordable housing, use of less toxic materials and better energy efficiency. But the visionary planning of the seventies, proposing neighborhood clusters, public transportation and energy efficient homes was largely ignored. Instead of lessening dependence on cars, putting solar panels on rooftops, concentrating development, traditional practices have prevailed, and with escalating real estate prices, home sizes continue to increase. Scientists at UCSD say that we have the technology to drastically reduce green house gas emissions. But many also add that it is already too late to avoid some of the catastrophic effects of climate change. I grieve not only that my daughter will never know the wild spaces of my childhood, long since paved over, but may never experience the full myriad of species and vast richness of western forests. May the moisture of my tears wet hope that we can learn to share the earth’s richness and redefine prosperity so as to create the conditions where all species, from the new seedlings, to disappearing plants and animals, to human beings may flourish.” —Ruth Wallen

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