Category Archives: Art

Reimagining Extinction: Michael Wang and the Art of Resurrection

NASAAntiquityNOW examines the connections between ancient and modern times to demonstrate that the past is never really gone. In so many ways, we still draw from the wisdom of ancient peoples and times. Even when it comes to climate change.

As we have been hearing, the warnings are dire. The earth is warming at an increasing rate.  Although the planet has experienced natural weather fluctuations throughout its history, the current alarms are sounding more ominous.

NASA has collected a trove of information gathered from earth-orbiting satellites and other sources to offer scientists a comprehensive view of changing climate patterns, much of which has been caused by fossil fuels. And the evidence is compelling. According to NASA:

Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers show that the Earth’s climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. Ancient evidence can also be found in tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks. This ancient, or paleoclimate, evidence reveals that current warming is occurring roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming.[1]

NASA explains that the current trend is significant since a greater than 95 percent probability attributes it to human activity since the mid-20th century at a rate “unprecedented over decades to millennia.”[2]

In the midst of the debates on what to do, what to regulate and how much of an impact all this data will have on life in the future, one artist is staking claim to his own representational view of our evolving world.

New York artist Michael Wang is fascinated by the interaction of the natural world, particularly the ancient one, with a modern industrial world seemingly bent on destruction. He imbues his art with the concepts of global systems that affect the natural world, including species distribution, climate change, resource allocation and the global economy. Two projects show his unique interpretation:

In Drowned World, which was exhibited at the 2018 European Contemporary Art Biennial’s Manifesta 12 in Palermo, Italy, Wang depicted the collision of the natural world that gives us sustenance and the industrial world that drives civilizations. In the installation visitors to Palermo’s botanical garden climbed steps to look over a wall into the remains of a coal-gas plant that once powered the city’s streetlamps. In that modern-day artifact Wang planted a forest of plants similar to those that grew 300 million years ago during the Carbonifera era, and which over time became coal and other fossil fuels. Araucarias trees, ferns, cycads and epiphytes thrived among rusted remnants of machinery and gas tanks. It was a juxtaposition of ancient, modern and ancient again, an intriguing synthesis of a lifecycle disrupted.[3]

In his art Wang questions what this disruption means to Earth’s future. When humans have wielded their influence with ever increasing consequences, how can the natural world coexist? “Climate change and ocean acidification modify the conditions for nearly all life on this planet. When the effects of human actions are nearly inescapable, what can we consider truly natural?”[4]

Click here to see pictures from the installation.

flower

franklinia alatamaha

In a city of quirks and marvels the rooftop garden of the Swiss Institute Contemporary Art Gallery in New York is unique in design and purpose. In rows of simple aluminum planters grow four different kinds of plants that are fragile vestiges of a verdant history going back millennia. Indeed, in one of the planters flourishes franklinia alatamaha, which is extinct in the wild (EW) as classified by The International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“Nature’s orphans” and “homeless” is how Wang describes these plants because without human cultivation, they wouldn’t exist in nature. As discussed above, human disruption is once again a factor, an underlying thrust that repeats in Wang’s art. For example, ginkgo biloba, a hardy and popular contemporary tree, began dying off in the wild thousands of years ago in the mountains of central China. Most likely this was due to human hunters who killed the large animal that picked up and shed the seeds across the region. This annihilation of that animal species affected ginkgo propagation. Ironically, during this period people also grew to value the trees so much that they planted them at temples and in cemeteries. Thus, the trees we see today have all been cultivated by humans.

gingko leaves

Ancient fossilized gingko leaves U.Name.Me/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

“I wanted to trace the passage of these species from nature into culture,” Wang says. He questions how humans manipulate nature to the degree that we alter the natural order according to our own self-interests. “How can you cause the extinction of a species in one context while also allowing its propagation beyond what would be purely natural in another context?”[5]

Click here to see pictures from the installation.

Wang fuses his artistic vision with an awareness of ancient systems and an understanding of earth’s peril. His art forces us to consider the inevitable result of human folly, and exhorts us to find the collective will to prevail.

Wang’s other works include “Invasives,” the controlled release of invasive species, “Carbon Copies,” an exhibition linking the production of artworks to the release of greenhouse gases, “Rivals,” a series that connects the sale of artworks to corporate finance, and “Terroir,” monochrome paintings made from the ground bedrock of world cities.

[1] https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/
[2] Ibid.
[3] http://www.fruitoftheforest.com/michael-wang-extinct-in-the-wild
[4] Ibid.
[5]https://www.nrdc.org/onearth/culture-clash-nature-and-civilization-face-art-michael-wang

Throwback Thursday! Perfectly Preserved Petroglyphs

Siberian petroglyphs. Image taken by Sergei Alkin.

Siberian petroglyphs. Image taken by Sergei Alkin.

It is said “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but some pictures are worth much more than that. Some ancient pictures are worth a thousand years of history and knowledge. These images tell stories about our ancestors and they help us to understand our past.

Recently, a fascinating find in Siberia was revealed for the first time and it provides a 4,000-year-old window into the ancient past. When scientists were alerted to its presence three years ago, they decided to keep it a secret in order to protect the site while they studied and cataloged its treasures. Now, for the first time, its location has been made public and our eager eyes can feast upon the perfectly preserved art. Continue reading

Strata, Portraits of Humanity, Episode 14, “Youth Diving on Shipwrecks” and “Saving Cyprus Frescoes”

StrataImage-webNext up in the video news-magazine series Strata:  Portraits of Humanity, produced by AntiquityNOW’s partner, Archaeological Legacy Institute, is a segment on a group of young people learning the ins and outs of marine archaeology, and a report on the wonders revealed by restorers of a Renaissance fresco in Cyprus.

The first video shows how Biscayne National Park and the NPS Submerged Resources Center partnered with Youth Diving With a Purpose for a project on shipwreck archaeology.  Biscayne Bay offers a challenging and intriguing introduction for these young people into the mysteries of the deep and the role of marine archaeology in preserving the past.  The second video reveals how restorers are peeling back the layers of time to decipher a painting representing a tragic study in faith. For 500 years, an exquisite Renaissance fresco, the “Forty Martyrs of Sebaste,” has remained hidden, forgotten and neglected in a 14th Century church in Famagusta, Cyprus.  The video charts the painstaking work of rescuing the fresco from obscurity and ruin, a pioneering project that puts heritage above politics.  After decades of neglect, saving Famagusta’s forgotten frescoes begins. Continue reading

Happy Hanukkah from AntiquityNOW: Children’s Crafts for the Festival of Lights

IMG_0862For Jews around the world Hanukkah is a season of family and remembrance, and what better way to celebrate the joy and miracle of this ancient holiday than seeing the ingenuity of students from the Hollis Hills Jewish Center Nursery School in Queens, New York.

Students at the school range from ages 18 months through five years old. The slideshow below illustrates the work of children from three classes. The Lego menorah was created by a student and her father.  The children were learning about the story of the Maccabees and the miracle of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, where a small vessel of olive oil burned in the menorah for eight days at the Holy Temple. The pictures of the Hebrew letters Nun, Gimmel, Hey and Shin are translated “Great Miracle Happened There” (in Israel “Here” is substituted). Continue reading

Zombie Apocalypse, Part 1: The Lamentable History of Zombies

zombieWhat is it about zombies that is so fascinating? The Walking Dead, a TV program now in its sixth season and the “world’s #1 show”[1], delivers a dystopic picture of a society beset by a virus that turns people into zombies. Its spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead, was a ratings winner upon its debut in summer 2015. Putting a new spin on an age-old plague story, these two shows build upon the premise that everyone somehow became infected, and that the virus lies dormant until death, when the corpse is reanimated unless a catastrophic brain injury is sustained. Drawing from this concept, the writers have crafted some intriguing twists and turns. Both shows have strong storylines and character development. Fans are rabid about the plot unfoldings, even when they diverge from the original comic books. Marketers have had a great run with all things zombie and rumor is some people are even reading again. So maybe it’s a lot of comic books but a range of zombie tomes has also joined the enviable list of beloved vampire and werewolf tales. Continue reading

Call for Entries for 2016 LegacyQuest International Children’s Film and Video Festival

Letter of Intent Deadline- December 11, 2015

Final Entry Submission Deadline- February 26, 2016

View our invitational video below and scroll down for details about the festival and how your students can get involved!


Continue reading

Strata: Portraits of Humanity, Episode 10, “In and Near Istanbul” and “The Mountain Wars of Fiji”

StrataImage-webTwo new features in the video news-magazine series Strata:  Portraits of Humanity, produced by AntiquityNOW’s partner, Archaeological Legacy Institute, examine the complex elements of a culture’s past that continue to influence modern times.

“In and near Istanbul” tours the region surrounding Turkey’s Sea of Marmara, including the storied capitol city Istanbul, which is renowned for its visible reminders of antiquity.  This is an archaeological and historical wonderland that draws visitors from all over the world.  “The Mountain Wars of Fiji” relates a horrifying piece of Fijian history. Across the islands of Fiji, hilltop fortresses tell a tale of a warfare and cannibalism going back a thousand years, when the war gods demanded tribute or revenge.  Yet people have been on these islands far longer and things have not always been the same. Continue reading

Strata: Portraits of Humanity, Episode 9, “Hunting Mountain Picassos” and “Sub Rosa: Tyntesfield”

StrataImage-web“Hunting Mountain Picassos” and “Sub Rosa: Tyntesfield” are the next episodes in the video news-magazine series Strata:  Portraits of Humanity, produced by AntiquityNOW’s partner, Archaeological Legacy Institute.

People have been chronicling their existence in pictorial designs for millennia. “Hunting the Mountain Picassos” captures the unique art of Basque shepherds over the last century who have created arborglyphs—pictures carved into the barks of aspen trees in Nevada. For more than half-a-century, Jean and Phillip Earl of Reno, Nevada, have used clues from old maps, letters and books to hunt for and document these remarkable pictures. In “Sub Rosa: Tyntesfield,” UK archaeology student Rebecca Kellawan journeys to uncover the use of a crumbling, abandoned US World War II base located on the grounds of a beautiful Victorian estate.  What is uncovered leads to even more intriguing questions of racial and national tensions in the era and recasts the look of patriotism. Continue reading

The Rose in History: Power, Beauty and the Sweet Smell of Success

June is National Rose Month, so we thought we would pay homage to this lovely flower. Roses have a storied and ancient history. Their delicate petals, their splendiferous hues, their enticing fragrances and their visual presence has inspired civilizations from time immemorial. Roses have been around for some 35 million years and evidence of their past glories have been found in the far reaches of the ancient world. Let’s explore their history further as we take a walk through the beauteous Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon, where the ancient and modern find common blooming rights. To make your stroll even more memorable, steep some rose hips tea, sit back and relax to the sumptuous tones of Enya’s China Roses. Continue reading

Strata: Portraits of Humanity, Episode 7, “Historical Archaeology in Downtown Boise” and “South Carolina Pottery Kiln Excavation”

StrataImage-webEpisode 7 of the new documentary series Strata:  Portraits of Humanity, produced by AntiquityNOW’s partner, Archaeological Legacy Institute, considers what we uncover about a society through the remnants of its existence. In this two-part episode we observe how discarded items become touchstones for past lives—relics that capture times, places, memories, social status, gender roles and cultural attributes. And we ponder how future generations will remember us when they come upon what we in the 21st century have left behind. Continue reading