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The Forum to present new media artist Natalie Jeremijenko

RELEASED: March 5, 2010

Natalie Jeremijenko
Natalie Jeremijenko

EAU CLAIRE — The Forum will present new media artist Natalie Jeremijenko March 18 at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Her address, "The Climate Crisis and the Crisis of Agency: What To Do in the Face of Uncertain Threats," will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Schofield Auditorium.

Jeremijenko is a self-described artist-experimenter who works at the intersection of art and science. She couples art and environmental activism — "creating interfaces that draw people into the environment and get them to reimagine collective action," as she told Salon.com.

A 1999 Rockefeller Fellow, the Australian-born designer was named one of the inaugural top 100 young innovators by the MIT Technology Review, and in 2005 she made I.D. Magazine's power list of the 40 biggest influences in design. She is included in "60: Innovators Shaping our Creative Future" (2009), a catalogue of the best and brightest that presents the case that "the future of innovation is no longer in the hands of the scientist, artist or designer working alone in lab, loft or studio ... It is a creative, collective, humanist enterprise that seeks to find new solutions to the problems of our planet and its future."

Jeremijenko's work takes the form of large-scale public art, tangible media installations, single channel tapes and critical writing. She investigates the transformative potential of new technologies — particularly information technologies. Much of her work involves biochemistry, physics, neuroscience and precision engineering, and almost all of it is carried out through public experiments.

"The art world is a very prissy little thing over in the corner, while the major cultural forces are being determined by technoscience," Jeremijenko once told The New York Times. "Technology is a language that is much less about privilege, it's much less intimidating conceptually than art criticism — one knows how to use a computer keyboard. So using familiar materials to encourage people to think about issues — that's my strategy."

Jeremijenko's "One Trees" is an environmental project involving 1,000 fast-growing fruitless walnut trees cloned from a single bunch of tissue. Dozens of trees were planted, in pairs, in sensor-equipped planters around the San Francisco Bay Area. The condition of the growing trees reflects the region's discrepancies in climatic, environmental and socio-economic conditions, serving as a reminder that Silicon Valley is home to a large concentration of toxic waste sites and has one of the nation's biggest gaps between rich and poor.

"It is difficult to see environmental changes, global warming and what it is doing to the distribution of trees, but with the same genetic materials in different spaces the diversity becomes apparent," Jeremijenko said. "We ignore slow environmental changes unless they are crisis-driven such as hurricanes in Florida. It is more important to read and understand (that) slow change is recorded by trees."

The work also contests genetic determinism and the uniformity promised by a bio-engineering. Before they were planted, Jeremijenko exhibited the young trees together to demonstrate that they were quite different from each other even though they were genetically and environmentally identical.

She also designed a virtual component for "One Trees" — electronic trees that are planted on computer desktops via CD-ROM, which then "grow" at roughly the same rate as the cloned trees. The growth of the artificial A-life tree is linked to a carbon dioxide meter that plugs into the computer's serial port, monitoring the air in the environment. Both digital and actual trees demonstrate the difference between how trees should grow and how they actually do grow.

"Stump" is another program Jeremijenko distributed on CD to provide commentary on society's shared illusion that the digital world is somehow clean and paperless. "There are many types of hacking going on and it has been demonized in a very interesting, very complete and comprehensive way," Jeremijenko said. "I certainly use viruses in my work. The 'Stump' project is a virus. It's a memory-resonant program that watches your printer queue, counting the number of pages you print. When you've consumed a tree's worth of pulp, the printer prints out an image of tree rings. Eventually, pages of the ring images accumulate into a stump, representing the tree you've consumed — so you know."

Jeremijenko's work has been included in the Whitney Biennial of American Art (1997, 2006) and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Triennial (2006, 2007). Her permanently installed model urban development on the roof of New York's Postmasters Gallery — "ooz, inc. (for the birds...)" — demonstrates an urban system that accommodates birds and recognizes the valuable services they provide for the Manhattan ecosystem.

Other examples of her work include "Tree Logic," an outdoor work at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art that suspends six maple trees upside down and forces them to reverse the direction of their natural growth; and "Suicide Box," a motion-detector video system engineered to record 100 days of activity at the Golden Gate Bridge. When vertical motion was detected it was captured, making a video archive of the suicides at the bridge. Jeremijenko linked the data to the Dow Jones average, creating a Despondency Index.

Jeremijenko is associate professor of art at New York University, where she directs the xdesign Environmental Health Clinic. "You walk out with a prescription not for pharmaceuticals, but for action," she said.

The Forum program will be interpreted for the deaf and hard of hearing. Jeremijenko's presentation will be followed by a question-and-answer session and an informal reception.

Tickets for The Forum are $8 for the public, $6 for those 62 and older and UW System or Chippewa Valley Technical College faculty and staff, and $4 for those 17 and younger and UW System or CVTC students. Student tickets are half-price ($2) until the day of the event; on the day of the event, students will be required to pay the full student ticket price.

Tickets are available at the Service Center in the east lobby of Davies Center and will be sold at the door. Patrons also may charge their tickets to MasterCard, Visa or Discover when ordering by phone. Call 715-836-3727 or, outside the immediate Eau Claire area, call toll-free 800-949-UWEC. A $3 handling fee will be added to all telephone charge orders.

Wisconsin Public Radio, Community Television and WHYS Radio have contributed generous promotional support for The Forum. The Forum is also funded in part by Visit Eau Claire ... The Unexpected Wisconsin. Best Western Trail Lodge Hotel & Suites (715-838-9989), 3340 Mondovi Road, is The Forum's exclusive accommodations partner.

Funded by the students of the UW-Eau Claire, The Forum is administered by the Activities and Programs office.

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JS/DW

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