By Marnie Benney
About ten minutes in to Natalie Jeremijenko’s FRESH TALK lecture at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, which took place this past March 2nd, I realize I’m supposed to be taking notes so I can write this article. That’s how engaging she is. Jeremijenko confidently launches into her presentation joking that she should probably be ‘doing the typical formalities’ – like saying she is honored to be presenting at NMWA – but she doesn’t. Jeremijenko is too excited about sharing her projects to wait. And her projects are, after all, why we are here.
Simply put, Jeremijenko uses her skills as an artist in the realms of art and technology to save the environment. Her projects (and there are a lot of them) range from using cheap, widely accessible materials like Tyvex to create gardens that hang off the side of urban structures to commissioning mussel choirs. Why hanging gardens? Leaf density is scientifically proven to be the most effective air quality improver that we know about. By creating more surface area for organic plants we can easily and drastically improve the quality of air in urban areas. And mussel choirs? Mussels tell us much from the opening and closing of their ‘mouths’. When water is healthy their shells flap freely. When water quality is bad they clamp up. By attaching sensors to their shell they effectively ‘sing’. Jeremijenko programmed the mussels to sing Harry Dacre’s “Daisy Bell” (“Bicycle Built for Two”). Jeremijenko has even hosted a party where healthy soil microbes were the honored guest. In Long Island City she invited folks to bring their waste materials, like junk mail and other cellulosic waste, to be turned into soil oil-enhancing biochar. A salsa DJ even spun some bio-chat-cha-cha dance tunes to enhance the bio-char-char.
Jeremijenko’s enlightening lecture was followed by a Q&A session with Jean Case, an engaged philanthropist and investor in the world of interactive technologies, and Megan Smith, the United States Chief Technology Officer in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, to discuss ideas and strategies for advancing women’s innovations in technology. While perspectives from these different sectors were interesting, the Q&A paled in comparison to Jeremijenko’s lecture. However, it did provide a valuable window into government and for profit corporations’ views on conservation from a technological stand point.
The final part of the event was a Catalyst cocktail hour: in this special edition of the Catalyst cocktail hour, which always features a topic and a twist, attendees from the science, technology, and maker communities joined the conversation with guest host J.D. Talasek, esteemed director of the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences. Formed into small roundtable discussion groups, we were prompted to list five women artists, scientists, and techgurus, which served as a terrific way of meeting new people interested in this subject matter and getting various topical conversations going. The event was overall inspiring and hopeful, leaving its audience to ponder innovative ways to creatively merge disparate subject matters around a good cause.
One detail sticks in the back of my mind: while talking is one thing, doing is quite another. I wonder if actually doing an activity that somehow helped the environment during the Catalyst cocktail hour would have pushed things a bit further? Maybe we then we would be more inclined to use what we learned – kinetically – through team work in our everyday life? Maybe we should take a cue from Jeremijenko?
All photos courtesy of Marnie Benney.