Tag Archives | stone

These boots: A personal mosaic geography of life on foot in Ottawa

I have gone the vast majority—we’re talking 98% majority—of my life without owning a car. I loved our car-free lifestyle, and it was a bit of a source of pride. But when we moved from Ottawa to Kitchener, we finally had to cave and buy our first car, since Kitchener, as a whole, is far more car-centric than Ottawa.

Year 1 of car ownership has been a bit of a difficult transition for me. Walking used to be my primary mode of transportation, with public transit, biking, and car sharing also thrown in for good measure. On any given weekday, my feet would carry me a minimum of 6 kilometres from home to the office and back. That’s at least 30 km per week, 120 km per month, and well over 1,000 km per year.

I walked in the glaring sun, the pouring rain, and the bitter cold. Walking the same path day after day, I got to know my landscape, my Place, intimately. I also got time to think. Walking for me is meditative and, as an introvert, is one of my favourite ways to recharge. It also doesn’t hurt that I stumble upon some pretty neat mosaic materials when walking.

I now telework and my commute is much shorter. Just the 14 stairs from the bedroom down to the office. I still get to walk the dog, but he’s gotten older and isn’t as spry, so the walks are slower and we don’t range as far afield anymore. And then there’s this confession: it is SO easy to fall into the trap of driving everywhere.

I’ve noticed a difference in myself, in both my fitness (no more exercise built into my daily routine by default) and in my mental state (no more automatic recharge and quietening of the mind while walking). So I’ve decided to work on rectifying the situation. Since I’m asking Kitchener residents to commit to taking one action to address climate change and then make a mosaic about it for my project, I figured I should lead by example. So one of my personal commitments is to walk/bike more (really, to drive less).

This will, of course, help reduce my carbon footprint significantly, especially given that nearly one quarter (24%) of Canada’s GHG emissions come from transportation. The transportation sector is second only to the oil and gas sector (*cough* tar sands *cough*) in terms of total emissions nationally. And here in Waterloo Region, it’s actually Number One. So there’s a lot of room for improvement. I can certainly do my part.

This mosaic is actually a map of my walking routes from my last few years in Ottawa, with some of the most important places marked: home, work (x2), the grocery store, the gym, the bus station (for those weekend trips to Montreal to visit R), the graffiti wall (one of my favourite foraging places in Ottawa), and, of course, Parliament Hill.

“The paths most travelled” (2017), 26.5″ x 24.25″ — Redback boot (right), Bogs boot (left), cement, shale, limestone

To build the map, I used urban-sourced materials, like cement, my favourite black limestone from Ottawa, and bits of stone that had flaked off a landscaping rock around the corner from our apartment. I also used my own boots, which I had worn out completely walking these and other paths.

The boots before they went under the knife…

The Bogs kept my feet toasty warm on those frigid winter walks, even when the temperature dipped below -40oC. They began and ended their life on the paths in this mosaic map. I wore them until they had a hole in the sole and water started seeping in (and even then, I put a bag on my foot to get a few more kilometres out of them!). Yes, they were good boots.

A close-up of one of the place markers, which are actually rolled-up strips of the pull tabs from the Redbacks

The Redbacks never actually set foot on these paths, having been retired years before but kept for sentimental reasons (I had bought them when on exchange in Australia in my undergrad and they had a special place in my heart). They saw me through lots of adventures, including my weekend at Touchstone, which is actually probably one of the very last times I wore them. I get a kick out of knowing that these boots, which had travelled so many paths, were there when I took my first tentative steps toward “walking the line” (as Rachel Sager would say) in the Pennsylvania countryside. I could think of no better send-off for both of these boots than to be immortalized in mosaic.

Here’s home base (the place marker on the upper right)

Rubber, stone, and even leather!

I’ve written before about the connection that I see between walking and mosaic, about the “parallels between what I experience when I’m moving through my landscape on foot and what I experience when I’m simultaneously creating and discovering the pathways of my own mosaics.” But this piece, where walking and mosaic came together completely, was one of the purest forms of line-building I’ve ever experienced in my years of working in mosaic. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

The pure joy of line-building

Making this mosaic was a reminder: of all the places these boots have been, of my time in Ottawa, of the joys of walking, and of the fact that I can (and need to) do better to fight the pull of the car.

Looking out across the map, towards Gatineau

Made in Aust(ralia)

 

9

Powering change: Energy production and consumption as seen through mosaic

Energy is, in large part, what got us into this climate change mess in the first place. The burning of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil has not been kind to the climate. So naturally, changing how we produce and consume energy—shifting to sustainable energy sources and reducing our consumption—will be an important part of taking action to reduce our climate footprint.

Let me be clear: when I’m talking about green or sustainable energy, I am not talking about things like “clean coal” (which is total greenwashing) or fracked natural gas (as much as some would like to tout this as a ‘transition fuel’ and celebrate its contribution to energy independence). No, when I talk about green energy, I am talking about truly renewable forms, like solar, wind, tidal, hydro (but more in the realm of micro-hydro and run-of-river than large-scale hydro), geothermal, and, in some cases, biomass. Yes, these all have an environmental footprint, as (fossil fuel industry–funded) opponents are fond of pointing out. There are impacts associated with the sourcing materials (e.g., mining) and production, with its transportation and construction, operation (e.g., impacts on wildlife like birds and bats), maintenance, and decommissioning. But anything we do—any form of energy we produce—has an environmental footprint, and the environmental footprint of renewable forms of energy is substantially smaller than that of fossil fuel energy. Of course, the greenest form of energy is the energy we don’t use at all and therefore don’t have to produce in the first place, also known as negawatts (‘negative megawatts’—a term coined by Amory Lovins in the 1980s).

Mosaic about renewable energy by Julie Sperling

“Power dynamic (Renewable production, mindful consumption)” (2017), 22″ x 11″ — marble, litovi, smalti, knob and tube, solar panel, shell, shale, limestone, sandstone, ceramic, miscellaneous stone

This mosaic tackles both renewable energy and sustainable consumption. Starting at the top, there is wind power, complete with clouds made of broken tubes from old knob and tube wiring (which were found in my dad’s garage, of course). Next up is solar power in the form of shiny rays of gold smalti. After that is all water-related forms of energy, but note that there’s lots of motion in the water (thanks to some waves made out of some really amazing shells)—no large problematic dams and reservoirs here!

Wind power and solar power detail of mosaic about renewable energy by Julie Sperling

Knob and tube clouds and golden sunny rays! (Plus negawatts. They’re everywhere!)

Mosaic about renewable energy (tidal and hydro section) by Julie Sperling

The sweetest little pebble stuck in a piece of shell in the water section

Sitting on the ground, there are solar panels ready to catch the sun’s rays above. These were originally part of solar-powered plastic flowers that decorated my grandma’s planter box, but when they broke I scooped them up rather than send them to the landfill. Around the solar panels is a layer of biomass, which, if done properly, is another source of green power (‘properly’ meaning not displacing food production or leading to deforestation, among other factors).

mosaic about renewable energy by Julie Sperling (solar, conservation, biomass, tidal, hydro)

Some negawatts mixed into the biomass section

Mosaic about renewable energy by Julie Sperling (solar, tidal, hydro, biomass)

Water, solar, and biomass. Check, check, and check!

And finally, down into the earth for geothermal energy, with hints of the heated groundwater that will be tapped into to produce energy. And we can’t forget the negawatts! You’ll see small sections throughout the mosaic where there are just the impressions left by missing pieces. If we consider each individual piece in this mosaic as a megawatt (a unit of power), then those missing pieces are the negawatts: integrated throughout and an essential part of a comprehensive energy strategy.

Mosaic about renewable energy (geothermal detail) by Julie Sperling

The geothermal portion — the heat from the earth’s core and the hot water that will be tapped into

Energy is a really easy area to take action on. You can buy green energy, you can install solar panels on your home, and you can also make your home more energy efficient through renovations (e.g., putting in extra insulation, sealing cracks, planting shade trees, etc.), technology upgrades (e.g., installing a smart thermostat, getting rid of that inefficient beer fridge), and behavioural changes (e.g., hanging your clothes to dry, turning off lights when they’re not in use, putting on a sweater and keeping your house a little cooler in the winter). There are usually incentive programs around to encourage you to implement these actions, so check with your local utility company or various levels of government. The nice thing about reducing your energy consumption is that it usually saves you money in addition to helping you feel very virtuous. Bonus!

And with that, I’m off to my renewable energy–powered studio to create my next climate change mosaic…

Mosaic about renewable energy by Julie Sperling

Parting shot of “Power dynamic”

0

Celebrating love with a mosaic ampersand

This past fall, a dear friend of mine got married. As is apparently now the custom when friends get married, I made a mosaic for her and her new husband. Not only do I enjoy making these personalized gifts, but there’s also something that has always felt appropriately symbolic about wedding mosaics (e.g., the dual importance of both the individual and the whole and how they work in partnership, the enduring nature of mosaic, etc.).

I first met Siti in Australia, many many moons ago. She is one of the kindest, funniest, most genuine souls I know. Over the years, we have kept in touch primarily through hand-written letters, despite the fact that we’re both fairly technologically connected people. Seeing a letter or parcel in my mailbox from Siti completely makes my day. I have developed a sort of ritual for reading her letters—there must be a mug of tea or coffee, there must be music, and I must be curled up on the couch—because they are special and deserve to be savoured and read with my undivided attention. On the writing side, in some ways my letters to Siti evolve much like mosaics: slowly and deliberately, constructed with love and patience, letter by letter, word by word, sentence by sentence.

Reunited after nearly 10 years and engaging in an age-old Canadian tradition: frolicking in the autumn leaves

Reunited after nearly 10 years and engaging in an age-old Canadian tradition: frolicking in the autumn leaves

I have come to know that Siti has a weakness for stationery, old typewriters, and typography. She and her husband, Fad, even take calligraphy classes together. (I know, too cute, right?) So deciding what to make for their wedding mosaic was easy. The typeset letter was purchased from a social enterprise here in Ottawa that is essentially a thrift / antique store with the parallel mission of helping the most marginalized and vulnerable members of the community. A perfect origin for this element, because Siti and Fad are admirably committed to volunteerism and giving back, especially to those most in need.

Love that typeset ampersand

Love that typeset ampersand

In addition, their devotion to their families is readily apparent, making it fitting that the china for the ampersand came from a tureen that once belonged to either a grandma or great aunt of mine (the origins are a bit muddy) and ended up in my hands because it was cracked. I later learned that the pattern on the china actually reminded Siti and Fad of the coffee cups they drank from on their honeymoon. How serendipitously perfect!

And of course I was going to use rocks, not only because they’re what I love, but because they’re stable and humble, and the more you get to know them, the more they reveal their beauty and their secrets to you. All good qualities in a partner and a marriage, if you ask me.

ampersand - top detail

As a final note, I think an ampersand is quite appropriate for a wedding mosaic. Obviously, it’s fitting in that these two are now Siti and Fad. But I also like the way “and” can hint, with the addition of a simple ellipsis, at the promise of adventures to come (as in “And…”).

So, my dear Siti and Fad, I wish for you a life full of love, laughter, patience, adventure, and discovery. I send you all my love as you begin writing your life together like a beautiful, heartfelt, sprawlingly epic letter.

A special wedding ampersand mosaic for Siti and Fad 12"h x 10"w China, smalti, limestone, Eramosa marble, mudstone, thinset tesserae, typeset letter

A special wedding ampersand mosaic for Siti and Fad
12″h x 10″w
China, smalti, limestone, Eramosa marble, mudstone, thinset tesserae, typeset letter

 

5

It’s “very likely” that communicating about climate change is challenging

Communicating about climate change is tricky, no doubt about it. Not only is it a complicated issue, with plenty of risks and impacts (many of which are quite regionally specific), oodles of underlying science, and a wide range of possible actions, there’s also the complexity of the contentious political layer that inevitably gets added to the mix. It certainly isn’t a straight-forward conversation.

Those interested in advancing this issue—be they environmentalists, business leaders, scientists, policy makers, concerned citizens, or others—have generally come to the conclusion that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to communicating climate change. Instead, it’s all about knowing your audience, their motivations, and what resonates with them. For instance, we know that negative messaging (of the “We’re totally screwed!” variety) is, on the whole, ineffective. It runs the risk of desensitizing people and/or causing them to throw up their hands in defeat. Likewise, most people aren’t motivated to act out of a sense of altruism or even for the sake of their children or grandchildren; rather, you’re much more likely to convince them to take action if you link it to something more tangible and immediate, like their health, their wallet, or their competitive spirit (e.g., that one-upsmanship that’s driving Californians to rip up their lawns and install drought-tolerant gardens in order to show their neighbours up, or how people silently take note, one eyebrow raised disapprovingly, of who doesn’t put out their recycling and organics bin on garbage day).

Speaking purely anecdotally, on more than one occasion (and much to my annoyance), I’ve heard people pass the buck, saying that scientists haven’t done a good job conveying the climate change message—“Well I would’ve done something, but the scientists, they just didn’t communicate it properly!” It feels like a pretty lame excuse to maintain the status quo. Scientists are scientists. They do science. Yes, there are those who are also expert communicators, like David Suzuki, Jane Goodall, Bill Nye, and others, but, by and large, I’m happy for them to concentrate on the science. It’s not like they expect us to be quantum physicists, cardiologists, or organic chemists, so let’s not expect them to be wordsmiths and orators.

bennett - now playingHere’s the thing: We all need to take responsibility, for both delivering the message and receiving the message. Yes, we could almost certainly find a more effective way to communicate climate change, even with all its science and impacts and potential solutions. If marketers can manage to convince people that they need monthly subscriptions for things like novelty watches, vegetable peelers, or 18-month wall calendars, I’m pretty sure that it’s possible to convince people to take action on climate change. BUT—and this is a big and essential but—the public also has to do its part. We can’t whine about it being too complicated or hard to understand and stick our heads in the sand just because we don’t like what the weighty reality of the message implies. We need to step up, do the work to make sense of the issue (rather than retreating to our kitten memes and celebrity gossip), and then act on that information. It’s a two-way street, folks, and nobody is without responsibility. Hence the title of this piece: “Dialogue (The burden of the message).”

The inspiration for this mosaic was a study that examined the gap between what scientists mean and what the public interprets. Every few years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change puts out what are known as Assessment Reports. Thousands of scientists volunteer their time for this undertaking, where they comb through the scientific literature and synthesize it into a series of reports focused on the physical science of climate change, the impacts, and the mitigation options. The scientists assign the various findings that come out of this roll-up exercise with a rating that indicates how certain they are about each one (i.e., how settled the science is). For example, take this finding from the synthesis report: “It is virtually certain that there will be more frequent hot and fewer cold temperature extremes over most land areas on daily and seasonal timescales, as global mean surface temperature increases. It is very likely that heat waves will occur with a higher frequency and longer duration” (my emphasis). When IPCC scientists say “virtually certain” they mean they’re at least 99% sure, and for “very likely” there’s a likelihood of 90% or greater. But when the general public hears these verbal expressions of confidence, they tend to underestimate in cases where scientists are certain (and, oddly enough, overestimate certainty where scientists are less sure or the impacts are less likely). For example, while for IPCC scientists “very likely” means 90%-100% likelihood, people interpret this as more in the range of 50% to 90%. Takeaway message: communicating the science of climate change is hard because people’s baggage sways their interpretation and all too often things get lost in translation.

"Dialogue (The burden of the message)" mosaic by Julie Sperling - communicating climate change

“Dialogue (The burden of the message)” (2015), 17.25″ x 24.5″ — layered spray paint tesserae and rocks

This mosaic is a visual representation of the “very likely” rating and the corresponding public interpretation of it. In the main grouping there are 11 lines, each with exactly 100 tesserae, to represent the 90% to 100% certainty range—the layers of spray paint are the certain parts, the rocks the uncertain. And then slightly offset at the bottom is a 12th line (or a footnote, as R likes to refer to it) that’s 50% stone, to represent the lower end of the public interpretation of the “very likely” rating.

Angle view of "Dialogue (The burden of the message)" mosaic by Julie Sperling

All materials for this piece were sourced from within a 400m radius of my apartment

I was so happy when I landed on the idea of using layers of spray paint—fallen from a local graffiti wall—as the main material for this piece. Not only because it was so much fun (and different) to work with as I snipped and ripped and shaved it, but also because it feels entirely appropriate for two reasons. First (and directly linked to the study in question), because the IPCC assessment reports are a synthesis of heaps of individual scientific studies. (Plus, you have to admit, there is something kind of bookish about how the paint layers look in the mosaic). But more importantly, the graffiti paint is fitting because at its most essential it is layers upon layers of meanings and messages, which makes it a great material for talking about communication and dialogue.

Let's take a closer look at those layers, shall we?

Let’s take a closer look at those layers, shall we?

A commenter on Instagram said the paint layers were like fordite's edgier cousin---a comparison that I absolutely adore!

A commenter on Instagram said the paint layers were like fordite’s edgier cousin—a comparison that I absolutely adore!

So, to recap: Communicating about climate change is no small feat, but let’s not use scientists as our scapegoats for inaction. The onus is on both the messenger AND the recipient to transmit and interpret our considerable knowledge about what’s happening with the climate and then act responsibly and not turn a blind eye.

Detail of "Dialogue (The burden of the message)" mosaic by Julie Sperling

Spray paint tesserae and rocks, tilting to and fro…

4

The atmosphere is a giant sponge: A mosaic about precipitation trends

Water. A basic necessity for life. But, as with most other things, climate change is going to mess with water too.

In general, wet areas are going to get wetter and dry areas drier (with exceptions to the rule, of course). Here’s how it works in a nutshell: A warmer atmosphere increases evaporation and is able to hold more water. So as warmer temperatures suck the moisture up into the atmosphere, which holds onto larger quantities of it for longer stretches of time, the land dries out more quickly, thereby increasing the risk and potential severity of drought. When the precipitation does eventually fall, it is with less frequency but higher intensity, resulting in, you guessed it, increased risk of flooding. In addition, warmer temperatures also mean that more precipitation falls as rain instead of snow. Less snow means a smaller snowpack, which reduces our summer water resources—normally the snow melts gradually and recharges water sources for important things like, say, agriculture. Well, not so much in the future. So, a warmer world is both wetter and drier, more drought stricken and more flood prone.

“Changes in the global water cycle in response to the warming over the 21st century will not be uniform. The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between wet and dry seasons will increase, although there may be regional exceptions.” (IPCC AR5, 2013, “The Physical Science Basis: Summary for Policy Makers“)

This mosaic is all about that growing divide between water-logged and arid regions and the fact that, when the rains do come, they won’t quench our thirst, as the deluge will simply run off our parched, sun-baked soils and endless expanses of concrete without a chance to seep in, get taken up by trees and plants, and recharge our aquifers. It’s that idea of suddenly and overwhelmingly having what you need but being unable to use it that’s behind the title of this piece: “Drinking from a firehose (Flood prone yet drought stricken).”

"Drinking from a firehose (Flood prone yet drought stricken)" mosaic by Julie Sperling about climate change and precipitation

“Drinking from a firehose (Flood prone yet drought stricken)” (2015), 19″ x 14″ — Marble, ceramic tile, mudstone, smalti, glass tile, brick, terracotta, sandstone, slate, thinset tesserae, and garden hose faucet handles

Proudly displaying my find (Not pictured: Wheels already turning in my head)

Proudly displaying my find (Not pictured: Wheels already turning in my head)

The proto-idea for the mosaic had been sitting idly in the back of my brain ever since I found the two garden hose faucet handles in an abandoned lot near my office on one of my lunchtime scavenging outings over a year ago. Yep, sometimes it takes that long (and often longer) for that seed of an idea to take root and sprout.

The idea was to have the fiery side and the watery side emerging from / spinning into the faucet handles in opposite directions. You know, turning the taps on and off. And they do rotate in different directions. But depending on whether you see them as coming out of the faucets or getting sucked into them like a drain, the drought doesn’t necessarily match up with the faucet closing and the flood with it opening (righty tighty and lefty loosey, respectively). This bugged me for a while, being the perfectionist that I am, but then I made my peace with it, embraced the ambiguity, and am now simply content that they move in different directions relative to the faucets. It is enough.

Flood

Flood

Drought

Drought

About halfway through this mosaic, it suddenly hit me: I was applying some of the things I had played with / learned during the IMA challenges. Until now, the impact of these challenges on my work had been fuzzy and intangible at best. But now here I was, weaving the lines in more than one colour and material (just like I practiced in Week 2) and also making use of negative space between the lines in the tangle (sort of like in Week 13). Now, I probably could have done this piece without the IMA challenge experience under my belt, but I like to think that in some way having gone through those challenges shaped the decisions I was making, even subconsciously, and my work was better for it.

Learning how to weave the lines over and under

Learning how to weave the lines over and under — a chronological progression

I must be a glutton for punishment, because making the lines meander and crisscross like this is certainly a challenge. Building so many lines in parallel and keeping track of each one’s direction relative to the rest of the jumble and how they’re going to go over and under each other is such a headache. And yet I love doing it. I have absolutely no plan when I set out on one of these undertakings. In many ways they are the most unpredictable of the work that I do. The lines take me on a journey and, while I may protest occasionally (“No, contrary to what you may think, dear line, I believe you really do want to veer left over here”), I generally just do their bidding. Maybe that’s why I love doing it so much: the element of surprise and the unknown keeps me engaged and on the edge of my seat.

Flood detail

Flood detail

Drought detail

Drought detail

The divide between wet and dry

The divide between wet and dry

2

The rock fairy

Ever since I was bitten by the rock bug, people have been giving me stones (and, increasingly, rusty bits of metal) to use in my mosaics. Sometimes it’s a negotiated exchange (“I’ll send you some of mine if you send me some of yours”), sometimes people are lovely enough to think of me while they’re travelling, sometimes rocks pass through many hands before I get them (like the chunk of quartz that was from my mom’s friend’s friend), and sometimes the rock fairy just randomly shows up at my office (which ends in me going around the floor, checking with the usual suspects to see whether they were responsible for whatever goodies were left on my desk).

Sometimes friends enlist the help of their kids in gathering materials for me on their roadtrips

Sometimes friends enlist the help of their kids in gathering materials for me on their roadtrips

It’s always interesting to see what other people think will be perfect for incorporating into my work. The rocks that non-mosaic people give me are usually much different than what I would normally pick up—they tend to be rounder, smoother, and typically more aesthetically pleasing or interesting as is (think of the souvenir rocks you squirrel away in your pocket on vacation and then promptly forget about)—as opposed to the usual “workhorse” rocks that I pick up with the intention of smashing to bits. That said, I eventually find a use for the vast majority of them, which is neat because it forces me to push myself a little bit and consider new possibilities. I also love that these rocks almost always come with stories, whether spoken or unspoken, and I enjoy knowing that people have connected with them in some way—in a particular place and at a particular moment in time—before they give them to me.

"Workhorse" sandstone by way of a mosaic friend in Pennsylvania -- this is definitely more in my wheelhouse

“Workhorse” sandstone by way of a mosaic friend in Pennsylvania — this is definitely more in my wheelhouse

I have also loved putting together packages of rocks that I’ve sent off to mosaic pals and sharing a little bit of home with them. It’s fun to think that the rocks I think are perfect aren’t necessarily the ones that they’d choose for themselves, even if we both make mosaics.

Drool-worthy petrified wood from a fellow Canadian mosaic nut, which was just one of the many treasures I received in our swap

Drool-worthy petrified wood from a fellow Canadian mosaic nut, which was just one of the many treasures I received in our swap

While I may occasionally get stumped—damn you, large, perfectly round rock, you will not defeat me!—I always love it when the rock (or rusty metal) fairy visits. I get a warm fuzzy feeling when non-mosaic people go out of their way to indulge my habit, and there’s a sense of kinship, community, and connection when fellow mosaic people swap rocks with me. Either way, the rock fairy is always welcome at my place!

This perfectly round rock was the first thing to ever mysteriously appear on my desk at work

This perfectly round rock was the first thing to ever mysteriously appear on my desk at work

 

8

False debate: A mosaic celebrating the scientific consensus on climate change

Scientists overwhelmingly agree that climate change is happening and that it is caused by humans. In the words of the latest IPCC report: “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history.” And yet people still seem to think there’s a debate about whether or not climate change is (a) occurring and (b) caused by human activity. This manufactured debate is courtesy of a handful of powerful corporations whose wealth is inextricably tied to the fossil fuel industry and who are able to exert a disproportionate amount of influence on the media and politicians. The result is public confusion. This whole situation frustrates me to no end. By all means, let’s debate. But let’s not debate about whether or not climate change is happening. (Spoiler alert: It is.) Instead, let’s talk about what we should do about it, which policy instruments we should employ. Now there’s a debate I’d welcome with open arms (as long as it actually leads to action).

climate science consensus pie graph mosaic by Julie Sperling

“Quod erat demonstrandum (All else is junk science)” (2015), 24″ diameter
Stone (limestone, sandstone, Eramosa marble, coal, shale, concretions), cement parging, salvaged tile, brick, ceramic, Italian smalti, rusted metal, vintage 24-karat gold smalti

climate consensus pie chartThis so-called ‘debate’ about climate change is what inspired this mosaic. A 2013 study by John Cook of The Consensus Project examined a whopping 12,000 peer-reviewed journal articles about climate change published between 1991 and 2011. Of the roughly 4,000 that stated a position on anthropogenic climate change, 97% of these articles endorsed the scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change. The rest? Well, that’s just junk science. (You can watch Cook explain his study in this 3-minute video.) Even with the scientific consensus sitting around 97% and growing, public perception of scientific agreement is far lower (people believe that about 50% of scientists support anthropogenic climate change). And this ‘consensus gap’ between scientific reality and public perception prevents us from taking meaningful action to address climate change as we go around in circles, debating something that has actually been settled for years.

And so I decided to turn this convincing pie graph into a mosaic. The outlying 3%—the junk science—is quite fittingly represented by a bunch of rusty bits of metal (scavenged a year ago on the streets of Ottawa during the spring thaw) and coal sent to me by one of my Touchstone classmates. It’s funny, I very nearly got the math wrong on this when I was sketching it out. For some reason, my brain hopped instantly from 3% to 3º. Luckily, just before I was about to start sticking stuff down, I realized 3% is actually closer to 11º. Glad I caught that one!

Scooping up those two little red rocks (and one bit of rusty metal) in Lachine, QC.

Scooping up those two little red rocks (and one bit of rusty metal) in Lachine, QC.

This piece is so full of different materials that I had a hard time coming up with a list! There are stones, of course: shale, limestone, sandstone, coal, and Eramosa marble (and probably others that I can’t identify). There are two roundish red rocks I picked up along the banks of the St. Lawrence while out for a sunny Thanksgiving stroll. There are concretions given to me by friends in Alberta and Pennsylvania. There’s cement parging fallen from various walls around my neighbourhood—always in ample supply in the spring. There’s a variety of floor tiles (some even salvaged from my parents’ recent renovation, which my feet and my family’s feet have walked over a thousand times), brick that the Ottawa winter kindly liberated from a neighbouring house, and one of my favourite plates from my university days. And there is Italian smalti and hints of vintage 24-karat gold smalti (a splurge when I was in Chicago).

I had a heck of a time naming this piece. When I originally conceived of it, I got used to just referring to it as my “Junk Science” piece. I liked the ring of it and I was very close to actually naming it that. But then it struck me: why should the 3% minority get naming rights? Unacceptable. And so, “Quod erat demonstrandum (All else is junk science)” was born. The title comes from the only thing I managed to retain from the two weeks I spent in high school Algebra and Geometry before dropping the class (let’s just say that word problems are not my strength); QED is what you put at the end of a mathematical proof to indicate that it is complete (it roughly translates as “that which was to be demonstrated”). I guess it’s kind of the mathematical equivalent to dropping the mic? Anyway, I like how it lends a certain seriousness / formality to the piece, which is appropriate given that we’re really talking about one of the most fundamental concepts that I will ever deal with in this series.

Julie Sperling climate change mosaic pie graph scientific consensus

Check out how it dips over the edge of the substrate in places

As a final note, I wanted to mention that I’m really excited about this piece and how it turned out. There’s something about it that feels different, like something in me has shifted in some way (though I’m still working on putting my finger on what, exactly, that is and harnessing it going forward). I have a feeling that this mosaic will be an important marker in my evolution and growth as an artist, and this has me grinning a big ol’ stupid grin!

Bonus video: If you like sensible and funny commentary, you’ll love this John Oliver segment on the climate change ‘debate’. It is so perfectly bang on.

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Melting away: A mosaic about sea ice decline

For the second mosaic in my climate change series, I decided to tackle sea ice decline. The long and the short of the trend: it doesn’t look good for sea ice, folks (or for the cryosphere in general). But don’t just take my word for it, let’s see what the smarty pants scientists from the IPCC have to say about the subject: according to them, “the current (1980–2012) summer sea ice retreat was unprecedented and sea surface temperatures in the Arctic were anomalously high in the perspective of at least the last 1450 years.” Yikes. Oh, and “a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in September before mid-century is likely.” Why should you be concerned about the loss of sea ice? Well, it plays an important function in regulating the Earth’s temperature (its whiteness and shininess reflects light and heat), so without it things will get even warmer and wonkier. It’s also a key component of polar ecosystems—think of the polar bears and seals and penguins, oh my!

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling

“Sea ice (Steady unprecedented decline)” (2014), 14.5″ x 20″
Quartz, marble, stone from Ottawa and Georgian Bay, smalti, recycled glass tile, salvaged glass table top

 

Yep, it’s disappearing. Source: Climate Change 2013, The Physical Science Basis (IPCC)

This particular mosaic was based on a graph of Arctic summer sea ice extent since 1900. The trendline of the mosaic is made from a big chunk of quartz that was given to me by a friend of my mom’s. It took me a while to work up the nerve to smash it to bits with my hammer, but it was either that or let it sit there and collect dust. And this just means I have room to bring in more fun materials! In terms of stone, I used a white marble tile I scored at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, along with that amazing blue stone from up near the cottage (Georgian Bay, Ontario), and the nice glittery grey layered limestone (?) and black stone from Ottawa. The glass is a mix of smalti (the various blue lines), recycled glass tile, and some chunks of a broken glass tabletop that I rescued from the curb. I like the way the stone and the clear glass play off each other, but it really was a struggle to break down the glass. I’m slowly rekindling my relationship with glass, but it needs work. I think more practice will help, because as my skills get stronger, I will be less frustrated when working with it. And I’m hoping my sweet new Japanese hammer will help…

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (detail)

A slightly better view of the undulations

I added some undulations to the substrate to evoke snow drifts and rolling seas. And I intentionally put some of the machined edges of the glass facing up (as opposed to the riven side) because, being so smooth, they really catch the light and look like glints of shiny snow or ice. Of course, the curves and the way the tesserae catch the light—which are my two favourite parts of this mosaic—are the hardest ones to photograph. I really had trouble getting a photo that captures the essence of this piece (I was desperately wishing my photographer friends lived closer). Perhaps it’s just one of those pieces that needs to be seen in person for the full effect. Or perhaps I just need to hone my photography skills. I suspect it’s actually a little of both.

I’m thoroughly enjoying creating this series, even though I’m only two mosaics into it. I like the idea of engaging with a subject for a prolonged period of time. I’ve already got my next two pieces ready to go in my mind, and countless other proto-ideas jotted down. Apparently climate change is the subject that, sadly, keeps on giving. In a previous post I had joked about a cheeky working title for the series, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to keep it as the official series title. So, it’s official: say hello to “Fiddling while Rome burns”—a series of mosaics about climate change.

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (quartz detail)

A close-up of some of the quartz pieces, and you can also see the difference between the riven and machined edges of the glass (See the run of smooth, shiny glass pieces between the two quartz chunks? Now contrast that with the riven edges of the glass three rows above.)

A front angle shot to show the topography

A front angle shot to show the topography

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (side view)

Looking back towards the top of the trend line

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (detail of topography and quartz)

Just a side view of the topography and the quartz sticking up, just floating along on the flowing ice and water

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (quartz detail)

The quartz and rolling snow drifts and waves from another angle

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (quartz detail)

A look at the biggest quartz pieces in the icy, snowy top corner before they melt away…

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Mosaic workout challenge, week 20: Artist’s choice

Week 20! The END! Wow. It’s been an interesting ride, but also an increasingly tough slog as the weeks wore on. I’m happy and proud that I stuck with it, and I will be doing a post in the coming weeks with some thoughts on the whole experience. But, for now, let’s take a look at what I made for this final challenge. The theme actually didn’t come as a surprise to me. I had a sneaking suspicion that we’d get to do something of our own choosing for the big finale, and I like the way Sophia worded the challenge prompt:

“Look at the work you’ve done over the past 4 months, think about what you’ve enjoyed, what you’ve hated, what you are capable of accomplishing given a week and a few hours in the studio. Use the materials you love, choose a design that plays to your strengths, make something that reminds you why you fell for mosaic in the first place.”

So here’s what I did…

Just doing what I do. Rocks from my mom, my better half's mom, and a fellow mosaicist.

Just doing what I do. Rocks from my mom, my better half’s mom, and a fellow mosaicist.

Title: “Wayfinding”

Size: 6″ x 6″

Materials: Nothing but rocks!

How long did it take to complete? About 7 hours, I think… I lost count

Thoughts: This, in theory, should’ve been the easiest prompt: just do what you do. Instead, it was the hardest (but I guess the things that are closest to your heart usually are). The one phrase in the challenge prompt that really resonated with me was the one about making something that reminds you of why you fell for mosaic in the first place. And the reason I fell in love with mosaic (at least the way I do it now) was the rocks. I love knowing where my materials come from and having a very direct hand in their sourcing and processing. I also love how rocks are imbued with history and meaning; they have stories, whether they are unspoken geologic stories or tales of modern-day adventure. Who hasn’t picked up a stone while on vacation as a memento? People connect with stones, and I love that. To honour that connection, I made this mosaic entirely out of stones—all from Canada—that had been given to me by various rock fairies (and people very dear to my heart), who chose these stones specifically for me to use in my art. In terms of composition and process, I get no greater pleasure than when I let the tesserae and the lines take me on a journey, so with this piece I just followed their lead and went wherever they decided to take me. Overall, this feels like a fitting end to this 20-week challenge.

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Mosaic workout challenge, week 17: Elements

Earth, wind, fire, and water. That was the challenge this week: do something inspired by the four classical elements. This one felt easier to me, like I was more back in my wheelhouse. I didn’t have to contemplate it for days on end, which was nice.

"Core temperature" ... from the earth's inner core to its outer crust

“Core temperature” … from the earth’s inner core to its outer crust

Title: “Core temperature”

Size: 6″ x 4.25″

Materials: Stone, terracotta, smalti

How long did it take to complete? About 3.5 hours

Thoughts: I really enjoyed this challenge. Looking at the materials on my shelf, earth and fire were easy picks. I used a bunch of terracotta, smalti, and rock that I had already cut, which saved me a bunch of time. I had actually cut most of this about a year ago, and boy, can I ever notice the difference in my cutting skills! Just seeing that difference and the progress I’ve made was a valuable lesson in and of itself. And working with colours is always a good exercise for me, as it’s definitely not my natural inclination. I actually had doubts about the colours right up until I stepped back and looked at the finished piece. A lesson in trusting your gut instinct and not over-thinking, I suppose.

core temperature - angle

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