Feet to the Fire
Exploring Global Climate Change from Science to Art
Feet to the Fire: Exploring Global Climate Change from Science to Art was Weslyean University's first full Feet to the Fire program, which occurred in 2008-2009. This theme allowed for a wide variety of of cross-disciplinary courses, including a co-taught course that traveled to Guyana to explore tropical ecology as well as exhibitions and performances commissioned by faculty and visiting artists.
Wesleyan University’s First Year Matters program embraced the theme of Feet to the Fire for the incoming class of 2012. Over the summer, students received readings including scientific articles, prose and poetry that examined issues of climate change. During their orientation week, students attended lectures given by faculty in the social sciences and in the humanities about climate change. These were followed up by intimate conversations in residence halls led by faculty and staff. Students voted on the most critical threats to the planet and the most important actions that can be taken to ameliorate climate change (derived from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s findings). The next day, 550 students went to Foss Hill on the Wesleyan campus where they were led by upperclassmen and the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange in dances that embodied aspects of climate change. As part of the performance, the students assembled in the shape of a histogram that outlined the results of the poll they had taken, physically demonstrating what they as a class can do to address global warming. The night concluded with a performance of fire-dancing by the Wesleyan student group Prometheus.
As a part of the Spring Faculty Dance Concert, Indian dance artist-in-residence, Hari Krishnan, premiered a solo work inspired by the myth of the river goddess Ganga which responds to the depletion of natural resources by aggressive industrialization, told from the point of view of some of the most vulnerable populations.
Wesleyan University was the site of a new sound installation that bridged the gap between thinking about global climate change and experiencing it. Professor of Music Ron Kuivila’s sound installation The Weather, at Six employed the synthesized sound of the carillon bells in Wesleyan’s South College bell tower to create a sonic interpretation of weather data collected for the current day’s date over 130 years. Each day’s “piece” ran between 5 and 15 minutes. Every day at 6pm, speakers mounted in the bell tower in Wesleyan’s South College played “today’s weather” with rhythmic structure derived from the pattern of rainy (or snowy) days and bell selections following the contour of daily temperature readings.
Experimental music professor and seminal artist of the sound art movement Alvin Lucier presented his commissioned work for solo cello.
Nicole Stanton, associate professor of dance, premiered her commissioned work, Threshold Sites: Skin to Skin, a collaboration with Gina Ulysse, associate professor of anthropology. It looks at the ways in which choreographic processes can explore and address the social and cultural issues that contribute to lack of ecological awareness. The piece featured several dance faculty members as performers/collaborators and will be performed in the new green performance space in the Bessie Schonberg Studio. The event also featured a piece performed by Wesleyan students entitled Threshold Sites: Body and Earth collaboratively developed by Stanton and Ulysse with Michael Singer, assistant professor of biology and Andrea Olsen, chair of the dance program at Middlebury College.
Of All The People In All The World is a performance/art installation that uses grains of rice to bring formerly abstract statistics to startling and powerful life. In this captivating exhibition, each grain of rice is equal to one person and you are invited to compare the one grain that is you to the millions that are not. Over a period of days a team of performers carefully weigh out quantities of rice to represent a host of human statistics. The statistics and their juxtapositions can be subtle, witty and thought provoking. As part of Feet to the Fire, Wesleyan commissioned Stan’s Cafe to produce a version of the work which helped to humanize the issues of climate change. At the conclusion of the installation, over 11,000 lbs. of rice was donated to local food banks. As a means to engage audiences that might not otherwise attend the exhibit on campus, satellite exhibits were created in the community. Below is a video of the making of an exhibit located in a storefront in downtown Middletown.
Native American composer Barbara Croall was commissioned to compose a new work on global climate change which was developed and performed by the Wesleyan University Orchestra. Croall made two visits to Wesleyan to workshop the piece with the orchestra prior to its premiere. Croall is Odawa and balances her time between work in outdoor education rooted in traditional Anishhinaabe teachings and composing music. She has been actively performing and composing on Anishhinaabe musical instruments and for European classical instruments since 1995. Her music for soloists, small and large chamber ensembles, symphony orchestra, film, dance and theatre have been premiered internationally and across Canada. She is a graduate of the Hochschule für Musik in Munich, Germany and the University of Toronto where she was the recipient of the Glenn Gould Award in Composition in 1989.