Friday, July 25, 2014

Force Majeur book excerpt

Environmental artists Helen and Newton Harrison are wrapping up a new book that is a retrospective of their 45 year career. The Harrison's work melds art and science, and demonstrates the ability of art to alter cultural structures and social policy in a constructive way.

The book includes a chapter dealing with Force Majeur, a large theme of ongoing work that includes "Sagehen: A Proving Ground", their science/art hybrid work unfolding here in the basin.

You can read a draft of the entire chapter here.

This is the best explanation of the Sagehen project we've yet seen. It maps the newly installed plots, explains the research design, and puts the project into context with the Harrison's greater, multi-decadal career around the world.

Environmental remediation artist Mary O'Brien checks out
a Harrison plot while scouting locations for potential fish
Now that there are actual plots on the ground in the basin, having something to look at is stimulating other scientists and artists to ask related questions.

For instance, we just learned that UCIRA and UCNRS have awarded the first artist-in-residency at Sagehen to Matthew Jamieson and Seth Andrews. Their work will, "document the progress at each [Harrison] site through the use of photo, video, and field sketches. This documentation will be compiled with each successive site visit over months and years, and later be used in the Harrison’s gallery installation at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

New Sagehen employee!

Thanks to the generosity of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, we were recently able to hire our Winter Caretaker, Dan Sayler to be our new permanent Maintenance person.

Dan is now a 60% employee, and will continue his winter caretaking duties.

Since he is a skilled carpenter and a clever problem-solver, Dan's first order of business is to update some of the living spaces here at Sagehen that are badly in need. Here he is replacing the splitting board and batten facing of the Apartment.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Why art?

Update: Read an expanded version of this post on the UC Institute for Research in the Arts, and UC Natural Reserve System blogs.

Kathleen Wong of the UCNRS also posted a related article.


A couple weeks ago, we sent out a press release about the Invisible Barn at Sagehen. Here's a great article that came out of it.

We've had some interesting feedback and would like to continue the conversation about how to move forward from here. I have some thoughts I'd like to share with you, and hear yours in turn.

The purpose of the art program at Sagehen is to inspire reflection, connection, and new insight about the ecosystem of which we are a part. This insight can and should inform scientific inquiry into, and management of, this ecosystem.

My feeling is that the process of forming a scientific (or any other kind of) question is essentially an artistic one. People seldom--if ever--come up with their research question via the Scientific Method: science is a Criterion of Truth and a test of knowledge, not necessarily its originator. In fact, science has been so successful at this, that the term "knowledge" is often assumed to mean only scientific fact, leading to conflicts with other cultural knowledge like religion, ethics, and economics ;)

Art--whether literary, visual, musical, performance, or other form--is, at its deepest core, the discovery process whereby we connect apparently unrelated elements to create new knowledge of any flavor...knowledge that can then be explored and tested via the scientific method, or brought to cultural attention through the application of pattern and beauty.

As Helen Harrison once told me, "It becomes art when it starts to reverberate in your mind".

The history of Sagehen is peppered with this kind of occasional alchemy. I would argue that the two-year collaborative process of designing the Sagehen Forest Project, which will begin shortly, was essentially about writing a community narrative. From art, to science, to policy.

Graduate students frequently (typically?) come here with a thesis question that changes dramatically as they see things on the ground. From art to science.

In a more concrete example, researchers living on site at Sagehen randomly happened upon large Rainbow trout spawning in tiny ephemeral rivulets. This serendipitous discovery ultimately changed Forest Service management policy for these formerly devalued, temporary water courses. Again, from art, to science, to policy.

But no one really knows that story. Loggers loathe any rule that constrains their commercial activity, even though many of them also appreciate wild fish. It would have been helpful to have a physical artwork to mould and share the narrative, to provide a doorway to participation and ownership by the community of that new truth...and the subsequent science and policy emerging from it.

Invisible Barn is a bit of a departure from this idea, however. It's more abstract. It speaks to the themes of the larger Harrison project happening here. And it builds on the techniques of the Aldo Leopold Land Ethic Leadership (LEL) workshops we held here a few year back.

LEL teaches the 'Observe, Participate, Reflect' model, "providing a framework to help you facilitate values-based discussions in a new and open way, allowing you to come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of your own views as well as those that differ." There is no end goal except to start a conversation around a subject and see what commonalities emerge to guide future action.

I think that, given the almost universal reduction in natural history emphasis, collections, and field time within university science programs in favor of lab work, art is naturally going to play a far larger role in discovering and exploring future scientific questions. Somebody has to be out there observing the world as it is and reporting its meaning back to us.

So, the point of this lengthy manifesto is that the public doesn't seem to understand any of this. They don't get what art has to do with our research program, or why it's important. We have heard this directly from an agency partner, and from many confused visitors who, perhaps understandably, can't wrap their heads around the Harrison's complex Force Majeur 50-year art project.

But, at least the program is already stimulating questions!

I'm thinking that addressing this confusion would be very helpful to our community, to Sagehen, and to the UCNRS in general.

Maybe it would be a good idea to talk to the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA) or other groups about this issue and ways to address it? Maybe an article exploring the themes would be a good start, as well? Maybe we need more partners? Maybe we need a larger effort in the form of a workshop of some kind? Maybe there are tools out there already that we are missing? Maybe we need to incorporate this priority of communicating the value and purpose of art in science and at reserves into the Artists-In-Residence criteria? This would be at least as useful as any actual artwork produced.


We hope you will weigh in on this conversation with your ideas. Who do you think we might also want to bring into this discussion? In the meantime, please share the Kickstarter link widely. It's important.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Art vs. Environment at Sagehen

Invisible Barn relates very well to--and
comments on--existing Sagehen structures
and the surrounding forest.
Update: This post has been reworked by Kathleen Wong into an expanded article on the UC Natural Reserve System blog.


Invisible Barn is a notable-entry concept design, submitted to the Architecture League/Socrates Sculpture Park’s Folly competition by New York design firm stpmj. The contest explores the intersection of architecture and sculpture.

Since it didn’t win, Invisible Barn hasn’t actually been built…yet.

If the current Kickstarter campaign is successful, the piece has a new home: UC Berkeley’s Sagehen Creek Field Station embedded in the USDA Forest Service’s Sagehen Experimental Forest in California’s central Sierra Nevada Mountains.

One concern we and others have is this: collisions with reflective surfaces kill more migratory birds in North America than any cause other than habitat loss.

Most solutions involve making the glass less transparent and reflective, which is not optimal. But fortunately, birds can see UV light, while humans cannot. Reflective surfaces can be marked with UV patterns that deter birds, while remaining essentially imperceptible to people.

This can be as simple as regularly refreshing a grid of lines drawn on a window in sunny climates with highlighter markers, or as complex as integrating special bird-deterring glass (Ornilux, fritted glass, etching, UV films, etc.). Groups like and the Humane Society provide more information about bird-glass collision mitigation strategies.

As it happens, the aluminized mylar foil used to create the mirror finish of Invisible Barn is approximately 90% UV reflective in the range birds can see, so it is not invisible to them, as it would be were it made of glass.

Invisible Barn is beautiful. It draws people in. It stimulates questions and conversation about what it means to be embedded in an environment, and how people and that environment influence each other (including a mirrored structure’s effect on birds).

These themes are central to the research program at Sagehen that addresses--among other things--forest resiliencyendangered speciesanimal-vehicle collisions and climate change, all in highly collaborative ways.

These themes also relate to a larger, 50-year art project being developed at Sagehen by international environmental artists Helen and Newton Harrison. Their Force Majeur installation focuses on climate change in the Sierras and explores a potential increase in the water carrying capacity of the soil through native vegetation manipulations.

The Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art commissioned the Harrisons for this work. CA+E at the Nevada Museum of Art is also involved in bringing stpmj’s Invisible Barn to Sagehen, and has facilitated discussions with environmental artists Daniel McCormick and Mary O’Brien about integrating artwork into science infrastructure at Sagehen.

The Center for Art + Environment works with Sagehen because the museum is interested in a process where science informs art and art informs science. And we’re all interested in promoting solution-oriented interplay with the public.

That’s what we hope that the Sagehen Art Program will help us do. That’s what we hope that Invisible Barn will help us do.

And in the discussion about bird-structure collisions, it seems it’s already working: perhaps others will be moved to treat their own reflective surfaces, resulting in fewer dead and injured birds than would have otherwise been, had Invisible Barn never been built.

More info:

Friday, June 20, 2014

Artist residency pilot program at UC reserves


From the UCIRA website:


"Since 2007, the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA) has developed experimental residency initiatives that offer opportunities for arts research to take place at sites within the UC Natural Reserve System (UC NRS).

The 39 reserves of the UC NRS make examples of most of California’s diverse ecosystems available for research, education, and public service. The reserves are a rich source for exploration by artists. Staying at a reserve will immerse artists in the natural world, allow them to meet and mingle with scientists conducting field research, and develop work that moves beyond traditional concepts of art and science.

In partnership with the UC NRS, UCIRA is providing funding for up to five summer art residencies for a pilot residency program to take place between June and September 2014. Proposals will be selected based on the quality and suitability of arts research proposed at a particular reserve site.

Selected artists will be provided with a travel and research stipend of up to $1500 to cover fees for reserve accommodations and travel to and from the site. Stipends do not include a per diem. Artists must remain in residence for a minimum of five days and up to one month. Artists may apply independently or as an organized group/collective who work together as an integral part of their practice.

Artists-in-residence are encouraged to work with the reserve manager and scientists using the site to develop opportunities for exploratory research that sensitively engage these environments in new ways.

Working within the unique natural conditions available at each reserve, artists may choose to conduct independent projects or propose collaborative work that respects and/or effectively intersects with research taking place at the site. For example, proposed projects could visualize/animate scientific data or form potential working relationships with scientists themselves."

Apply here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

New paper on global change biology out.

One of Sagehen's four major research initiatives is our large meteorological and hydrological data collection effort.*

This data collection began with manual records for the National Weather Service's Cooperative Observer Program in the 1950's, went digital in the early 1990's thanks to the Western Region Climate Center (WRCC), expanded dramatically and added a backside database thanks to Desert Research Institute (DRI) and Keck Hydrowatch in the 2000's, and now has an expanded research component thanks to the Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology (BIGCB) and their ecoinformatics-engine.

These efforts build on each other and just get more and more complex. It is often really challenging to track who is using all this data and how.

But we do know that Sagehen data is part of the PRISM Climate Group's development of spatial climate datasets that they make available to the public, often for free.

The BIGCB has a new paper just out that uses these PRISM models:
Beyond a warming fingerprint: individualistic biogeographic responses to heterogeneous climate change in California

* The other three major research initiatives are forest resiliency, Lahontan Cutthroat Trout reintroduction, and Highway-89 animal vehicle interaction.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Mountain Forge donates signs!

Our local artisan blacksmiths, Mountain Forge, just donated an amazing gift to Sagehen: gorgeous iron sign plates for our buildings!
Our crappy old signs.
When visitors arrive at Sagehen, we describe where they will be sleeping, showering, eating, working, etc.

But it's often hard for them to figure out which buildings we are indicating. In the past, we made temporary signs with paper and plastic, but those rapidly become shabby, squirrel-chewed and useless.

Fortunately for us, Toni and Jennifer Standteiner and their family participate in KidZone Family Camp here, and offered us their help!
The beautiful new signs!

Art, and science infrastructure.

A model at the Nevada Museum of Art
for a new project.
Thanks to an introduction from Bill Fox at the Nevada Museum of Art, Center for Art + Environment, we met with Daniel McCormick and Mary O'Brien last week.

McCormick and O'Brien are environmental artists whose work integrates with engineering and civic engagement to create living remediation structures for watershed restoration projects. Here is part of the Artist's Statement from their website:
"We are compelled by the idea of using sculpture in a way that will allow the damaged areas of a watershed to reestablish themselves."
So, instead of having a bunch of ugly rip-rap, dirt, and contours as can be typical of these projects, you get a beautiful, evocative addition to the landscape that gradually becomes part of that re-altered environment, stimulating questions and discussion about the issues along the way.

A recent work mediates flooding on the Carson River.
Sounds like a much better idea.

Daniel and Mary evaluate a Sagehen Creek crossing.
The artists came to Sagehen to talk with us about the recent Sagehen Fish Barrier Feasibility Study. Hopefully we'll be able to incorporate landscape art into these structures as the project moves forward.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Fish Barrier

The Sagehen Fish Barrier Feasibility Study is out! We're excited to be working with Trout Unlimited on this project.

From the report:

"Lahontan cutthroat trout (LCT, Oncorhynchus clarkia henshawi), a distinctive subspecies of cutthroat trout, is a state and federally listed species endemic to the Lahontan Basin. LCT populations have suffered due to a plethora of stressors including historic over‐fishing, habitat loss and fragmentation, water diversions, loss of genetic variation, and interactions with nonnative fishes (e.g., displacement, competition, predation, disease introduction and hybridization). It is estimated that LCT now occupy only 2.2% of historic stream habitat within the Truckee River Basin (Moyle 2002, Stead 2007). The lone remnant native population resides in the upper basin in Independence Lake and Creek (Gerstung 1988).

Efforts are underway to preserve current populations (e.g., the recently constructed Independence Lake Spillway Fish Barrier) as well as expand the range through reintroduction to historic habitat. Some reintroductions of LCT in the Truckee River Basin (e.g., Martis Creek Lake) have failed (Moyle and Vondracek 1985); however, reestablishment efforts were successful in small headwater creeks within the basin, where LCT populations were able to survive in isolation from nonnative trout species (Moyle 2002). It appears that successful reestablishment requires the eradication and exclusion of nonnative trout. Sagehen Creek is under consideration for LCT reintroduction. However, several species of nonnative salmonids reside in or seasonally utilize the creek, migrating upstream from Stampede Reservoir.

A feasibility assessment was undertaken to evaluate the possibility of constructing fish passage barriers for both the long‐term exclusion with a permanent barrier and short‐term isolation of segments of the stream with temporary barriers to facilitate eradication of nonnative salmonids within the watershed. Permanent barriers would prevent upstream fish migration in perpetuity, while the temporary barriers are envisioned to operate through a finite number of high flow seasons (e.g., 3 years), while the nonnative eradication effort is undertaken."

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Press Release from the Feldman Gallery

Sagehen environmental artists Helen and Newton Harrison have broken ground on the vegetation manipulation for their 50-year artwork at Sagehen! Learn moreWatch video.

They also have a new exhibit opening in New York City. If you are in town next month, be sure to catch it. Here's the press release from their gallery rep:




January 11 - February 8, 2014

"[The Harrisons’] work is a prime example of the potential of ecoart to create knowledge that promotes cultural change." -- Ruth Wallen, Leonardo XLV, no. 3, 2012

Helen Mayer Harrison & Newton Harrison are the first recipients of the Corlis Benefideo Award for Imaginative Cartography, presented at the Annual Meeting of the North American Cartographic Society (NACIS) on October 9, 2013 in Greenville, South Carolina.

Ronald Feldman Fine Arts will exhibit, Global Mapping, an overview of the life-long work of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, pioneers of ecologically-oriented art, whose visionary proposals have influenced long-term public policy in the United States and abroad. For more than forty years, the Harrisonsʼ expansive practice, realized in collaboration with experts from other disciplines and often commissioned by government and art institutions, has been to map out specific geographical areas at ecological risk to encourage public discourse and community involvement. Their impassioned works serve as both a meditation on global ecology and also as a futuristic vision, often with proposals for environmental change and recovery.

The Harrisonsʼ mapping - on large wall panels and synthesized with aerial photographs and narrative text of Socratic reasoning - dominates the exhibition space. The artworks are selected from large-scale installations of projects from the early seventies to the present. Similar in appearance to the wall panels, a floor panel allows the viewer to walk on a topographical map of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, a work from Force Majeure, the Harrisonsʼ current on-going series which addresses the effects of global warming on an unprecedented scale.

Earlier works, From The Lagoon Cycle (1974-1984), Law of the Sea Conference from the 1976 Venice Biennale, and Baltimore Promenade (1981), focus on watershed restoration, agricultural and forestry issues, and urban renewal, as well as providing a history of the Harrisonsʼ engagement with the topic of global warming.

Reflecting the Harrisonsʼ international perspective and the scale of their research, the exhibition includes projects that study the eco-systems of large bodies of water from around the world: the Sava River in former Yugoslavia, the Yarkon River in Israel, and the Salton Sea and the Bays at San Francisco in the state of California. Their titles often incorporate visual metaphor to define and unify the large geographical areas under consideration: A Vision for the Green Heart of Holland, Peninsula Europe, Greenhouse Britain, and Tibet is the High Ground.

Helen Mayor Harrison and Newton Harrison, Emeriti Professors in the Visual Arts at the University of California at San Diego and currently research professors at University of California at Santa Cruz, have been represented by Ronald Feldman Fine Arts since 1974. The recipient of numerous awards, they delivered the convocation address at the College Art Association 100th Year Anniversary Conference in 2011. They have exhibited internationally, and their work is in the collections of many public institutions including The National Museum of Modern Art, The Pompidou Center, The Museum of Modern Art, and The Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art.

There will be a reception Saturday, January 11: 6 - 8. Gallery hours are Tuesday - Saturday, 10 - 6. Monday by appointment. For information, contact Varvara Mikushkina at (212) 226-3232 or