let me start by giving a shout out to henry chalfant. it was henry who recommended me to 350.org as a potential street artist to take part in their campaign to raise awareness around co2 emissions and climate change. this campaign officially kicks off 09.24.11.
i started getting ready for this project about 6 weeks ago. thanks goes to friend and co-worker rena yazzie and her brother who provided a big, beautiful lump of coal from the kayenta mine. thanks to josey and jameson for letting me photograph their adorable 5 month old daughter, j. c.
it's been an insightful period for me. if the navajo people and coal were to declare their relationship status on facebook, they'd have to chose the "it's complicated" option. i informally interviewed 16 co-workers and asked them to share with me the first thing that comes to mind when i say "coal." everyone i talked with was raised on the reservation. they all identified coal as a cheap source of fuel, especially for the elders. it's readily available to all tribal members. by way of comparison, a pick up truck full of wood costs $200.00. that same pick up truck loaded with coal would cost only $60.00 and the coal would burn longer.
everyone in my small sample identified respiratory problems associated with burning coal in the home. everyone acknowledged that the coal mined on the reservation is used to generate energy off the reservation for surrounding megalopolises such as denver, phoenix, albuquerque, las vegas and l.a. they found this arrangement to be problematic. it should be noted that the navajo nation has the largest coal mining operation in the southwest and one of the largest operations in the world.
the reservation is home to 170,000 people who live in an area that is 27,500 square miles. it's larger than 10 individual states within the u.s. over half of the population lives below the usa defined poverty line despite having land that is rich in coal, natural gas, uranium and water. the unemployment rate is 40%. mining operations on the reservation provide work for a small segment of the population who are able to realize a middle class lifestyle for their families. however, the cost to the families who burn coal in their homes and to the environment is great.
interestingly, only 1 of the 16 people i interviewed identified co2 emissions associated with coal burning as a contributing factor to climate change. again, it's a complicated relationship.
collaboration in flagstaff with rey cantil who did the text around the lump of coal (which is a metaphorical black cloud over the head of future generations if we keep burning fossil fuels). the text comes from u2 and says:
the san francisco peaks in flagstaff, az are sacred to 13 surrounding indigenous, sovereign nations. the sanctity of the peaks is being threatened by the local ski resort and the u.s. department of agriculture who have plans to use reclaimed wastewater for snow making. construction of the pipeline has already begun.
i asked friends and activists what they thought about what's happening with the peaks. their thoughts were then written on their faces. wheat pastes and the complete story to follow. in the meantime, check:
thank god i'm almost done with the 350.org project. it's been rewarding and insightful but i'm ready to move on. it's been a long 3 weeks getting work up.
sensing it was time to get up, i awoke at 4 a.m. (although i set the alarm on my phone last night, i ended up leaving it in another room.) i made coffee, collected 3 day old wheat paste from the garage and set off in darkness to my destination 20 miles away. in the cloud-heavy, humid morning chill and darkness, i used my headlight to do an installation on a coal train bridge abutment going as high as i could above the graffiti. school buses and 18 wheelers were the only traffic, passing sporadically. their headlights would momentarily flash on the spot where i was working prompting me to turn off the headlight and freeze in position on the ladder.
the coal train bridge passes over a small wash. because of the recent end of the monsoon season rains, the wash was quite muddy making stabilizing the ladder tricky. and the mud! i've mud everywhere. i can't believe i once thought getting off white upholstery in my car was ever a good idea. there's nothing worse than the combination of clay-like mud mixed with funky smelling, old wheat paste which is now stuck on each of the rungs of my 16 foot extension ladder.