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This artist builds coral reefs by hand

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It's not easy to build a coral reef, which is why it usually takes millions of coral polyps and sponges and other organisms decades to build them up. Artist Courtney Mattison took on the job solo, while she was studying conservation biology in grad school at Brown and moonlighting in ceramics at Rhode Island School of Design. Her thesis project became the first sculpture in a series called Our Changing Seas, which highlights the dangers facing reefs on a massive scale by building them on a (slightly less) massive scale. (We're talking 15 by 11 feet and not much lighter than a Smart Car.)

Mattison's newest piece, Our Changing Seas III, depicts a hurricane-spiral of bleached corals coalescing to a bright center. You can read it as a message of hope or one of impending doom, depending on your disposition, but Mattison tries to stay on the cautiously sunny side. "I really hope I’m not building monuments to reefs, memorials of their demise," she told Grist over the phone. "I would really like these to be celebrations of them -- but time will tell."

Mattison has an Etsy shop and also sells sea-licious art objects from her website. A portion of the profits go toward 350.org and Mission Blue.

If you’re near Saratoga Springs, N.Y., you can see Our Changing Seas III at the Tang Museum (Skidmore College, 815 North Broadway) until June 15. On June 14, Courtney Mattison will speak at the closing reception for the show. Our Changing Seas I is on display at the AAAS gallery in Washington, D.C., where Mattison will also be speaking on May 1

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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These artists will take you on a journey to the melting Arctic

Banks' ink-on-mylar painting "Micro/Macro" hangs in one of the gallery's windows. It depicts the effect of climate change on Arctic ice.

If you've always wanted to visit the Arctic, you might have to hustle, because climate change will eventually render the region unrecognizable. But if you don't have the time, money, or inclination it takes to burn carbon getting to one of the most remote places on Earth, an art exhibit at the American Association for the Advancement of Science is investigating the ways that global warming will change this iconic landscape.

Watch a video of the artists talking about the exhibition:

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Thanks to these sweet posters, green habits have never looked cooler

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It's that time of year again! Do the Green Thing is celebrating Earth Hour by releasing a new poster every day until March 29. The posters, often created by big designer names, are aimed at encouraging folks to, well, do the green thing. Here are some of our favorites. See more great posters and follow the project

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This artist creates fracking scenes with vintage figurines and postcards

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New York state-based photographer Brandi Merolla was trying to figure out her next project when she looked around her house. Victorian prints, tiny charms, paintings, vintage postcards, and figurines she collected throughout the years suddenly stood out in ways they hadn't before. So she used her collection to illustrate something else close to home: fracking. In "Scenes from the Attic," Merolla tackles a big controversy with tiny art.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Green sleeves: Tattoo art takes root in farm country

Stacey Givens, 31, farms and runs the Side Yard Farm & Kitchen in Portland, Ore. She says she has a strong connection to vegetables -- “an understanding, really, from the beginning of their life to the execution on the cutting board.”

The lines, drawn in ink, tell stories, carry messages, and speak volumes about the passion their wearers feel for the land and the things they coax from it. There’s the tomato plant to remind its bearer of his favorite food and a grandfather who grew them healthy and hearty. There are bees as reminders of what could be lost, and the importance of working together. There are the colorful fields of corn, a barn, cows, and goats, cascading down the arm of a farm-to-table chef. Across a belly the words: Farm Life.

Here are some of our favorite farm tats, examples of the ink work artists are doing for growers, beekeepers, vintners, and chefs -- people of all ages. Together, they bring truth to the thought that beauty is skin deep.

Read more: Food, Living

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Park, get set, go: Here’s what it looks like when the weird and the car-free steal your spot

San Francisco.

Did you miss Parking Day 2013? If you live in a participating town, especially San Francisco, the city that started it all, how could you? There were goats, for goodness sake. Well, never mind your unperceptive eyes -- here's a chance to take it all in.

Read more: Cities

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Camp appeal: Photos of gorgeous modern tents for urban adventurers

Tentsile of London's Treehouse tent keeps campers off the ground.  It looks like a great tent for snake or rat country, if the campers don’t end up in a sagging heap.

A tent. It manifests the spontaneous thought of “let’s get away from it all” even if it’s in your own backyard -- or atop the neighbor’s roof.

Tents, and an evolving notion of what it means to “camp out,” have of late spawned a fresh design movement aimed at reconnecting us to the outdoors, even in the din of a city. The designs are often beautiful, otherworldly, and thoughtful: Pup tents are giving way to space pods and lunar landers suspended from the trees. Once a canvas tent, tents become a canvas.

Join Grist as we explore the wild landscape of our cities.
Susie Cagle
Join Grist as we explore the wild landscape of our cities.

And lest you think that this is all frivolity and giant sperms, a tent is often all a person has, the simple walls between their life and elements. Some of these artists and designers are creating spaces and places for the homeless and communities harboring those without homes, empowering tent villages and camp communities.

In truth, all should have a home on Earth. If your flat happens to look like a spaceship or a cement mixer -- or even a giant purple sperm -- all the more power to you.

Read more: Cities, Living

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Precious cargo: These bikes carry just about anything — pianos included

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Copenhagen designer and transportation consultant Mikael Colville-Andersen has perhaps done more than anyone else in recent years to put the cool back into bicycling. Colville-Andersen, CEO of the Copenhazenize Design Co., founded the Cycle Chic blog, a brand that has spread to cities worldwide. He spends a good deal of his time evangelizing about the benefits of bicycling to cities, and taking photographs of cyclists in the streets.

Colville-Andersen is a particular fan of cargo bikes -- bicycles built to carry everything from parcels to people. (He himself pedals a Danish-designed Bullitt cargo bike that Grist Senior Editor Greg Hanscom recently took for a spin.) And in rifling through his photo archives not long ago, he realized that of the 15,000 or so photos he’d taken while documenting bicycle culture around the world, easily 3,000 were of cargo bikes. The result: A new self-published book called Cargo Bike Nation that features “photo after photo of cargo bikes, as well as bicycles with cargo.”

“At the end of the day I just wanted to produce the ultimate cargo bike photo book,” Colville-Andersen writes in the introduction. “Nothing sells cargo bikes like a long line of photos showing Citizen Cyclists and others using a cargo bike in their daily lives. As a vital tool for urban living.”

Read more: Cities, Living

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Nature writ small: Kids capture scenes of wild things in the city [SLIDESHOW]

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“Small-scale nature,” “little nature,” and “mundane nature” -- these are the terms science educators use to elicit excitement from kids who take part in camps and internships at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh. We tell them that nature is all around us, but that often our lives are too fast-paced to notice it. We tell them that we are going to go out and discover the nature that is in our everyday lives. Then we hand them point-and-shoot cameras.

Join Grist as we explore the wild landscape of our cities.
Susie Cagle
Join Grist as we explore the wild landscape of our cities.

By focusing photography on the beauty and wonder of small-scale nature present in their daily lives, we work to increase these kids’ sense that they too are a part of the natural world -- that nature is not only “out there,” beyond the city limits. We tell them that while we will be taking photographs, the emphasis of our teaching is not so much on how to use a camera, but on how to see the world. We teach them that even after they no longer have the camera, they will still be able to see these things.

These images come from young photographers, ages 6-17, nearly all from low-income families, who participated in our "Know and Grow" free camp for underserved elementary and middle school children, our "Learning for a Greener Future" paid summer internship program for underserved high school students, and our "Shutterbugs" and "Photosynthesis" camps for middle schoolers.

Read more: Cities, Living

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Lost and found: Scenes from the Los Angeles River

Waterfowl flock along a long concreted stretch of the LA river at sunset with the downtown skyline in the background.

Flying into LAX, I love to look down and see the concrete swathe of the L.A. River threading through the heart of Los Angeles. From Canoga Park in the western end of the San Fernando Valley, the river flows 51 miles down to Long Beach where it empties into the sea.

Join Grist as we explore the wild landscape of our cities.
Susie Cagle
Join Grist as we explore the wild landscape of our cities.

Having spent years photographing the river, I still love exploring and finding new and exciting parts of it to shoot. So popular as a movie backdrop, the river changes scenes almost as much as a movie itself, sliding from a tranquil, tree-lined landscape to the severe cement channel that cuts through downtown L.A.

Once completely cut off from the public, the river has been unchained -- access to the river is increasing every day and there is no turning back. Along the Glendale Narrows you can ride the rapids in an ocean kayak or watch a great blue heron take off majestically from its perch. Downtown you can walk on the concrete beveled banks of the river -- the place where they raced cars in Grease, and which still attracts film crews almost daily.

Several times a year I lead a photo tour of the river, and as we slip through the torn rusty fence and gingerly cross the railroad tracks to look over the edge of the river, a bit of danger hits us, and we all understand how this unique and majestic river has ingrained itself into our psyche.

Read more: Cities, Living