Category Archives: Confab Lab

Kickstarter for Mel Chin’s “The Arctic is Paris” film

Support Mel Chin film on Kickstarter.  Conceived at the Rising Waters Confab 2015.

The Arctic is Paris.   A short film connecting the Arctic, Paris, and the world, with poodles, and an Inuit hunter giving an urgent climate change message.  See the trailer.




The Rising Waters Confab Report / Visual Book is complete.  Click here for the document.


Rising Waters Confab Report

2 Participants
3 Introducing the Rising Waters Confab | Buster Simpson
4 Captiva’s Outlook | Leonard Berry
5 In the Dry Morning | Gretel Ehrlich
8 How the Arctic Drives the Climate of the Temperate World | Gretel Ehrlich
11 What Happened 120,000 Years Ago Could Repeat | John Englander
12 Surging Seas | Climate Central
14 We Have Time to Adapt, but No Time to Waste | John Englander
16 Digging for Water | Glenn Weiss
18 Is it Fair? | Thomas Ruppert
19 How to Talk About the Climate | Florida Sea Grant College Program
21 Week Two | Jeremy Pickard
22 Climate Change Is Gradual | June Wilson
24 Commons at Ground Level | Anne Focke
27 Commons Reader | Anne Focke
28 Rising Waters Blog | Anne Focke
30 Who Should be Our Allies? | Orion Cruz
32 Agitprop at Rally | Buster Simpson and Edward Morris
33 Statues of Brave Heroes of Climate Change Skepticism | Lewis Hyde
34 Drowning Man Festival | Lewis Hyde with Others
36 5 Actions to Stop Rising Seas | Xavier Cortada
38 Captiva Island H.V.A.C. Wedge | Buster Simpson
39 Making Ice Bags to Refreeze the Glaciers | Xavier Cortada
40 Glenn Weiss, Jungle Seeds
41 Week Two | Jeremy Pickard
42 L’Arctique est Paris | All Confab Collaboration, Lead Authors Mel Chin and Gretel Ehrlich
49 Mangroves | Xavier Cortada, Walter Hood, and Buster Simpson
51 Removing Exotics | Xavier Cortada
Raked Free Zone | Buster Simpson
52 Pine Island Sound Expedition
54 Underwater Affair and Palm Column | Walter Hood
56 Hurricane Remodel…Hire an Artist | Lewis Hyde
57 The Graceful Retreat | Buster Simpson
58 National Midden Mound-ument Preserves | Buster Simpson and Andrea Polli
60 Rising Gas | Andrea Polli
62 Islands and Global Forces – Cretaceous-Tertiary Boundary | Andrea Polli and Buster Simpson
64 Voxel Frog // Mangrove | Buster Simpson
66 Limestone | David Buckland
68 Charcoal Sketch 2 for Neptune (A Play About Water) | Jeremy Pickard
72 SOS Life Float & Reliquary | Buster Simpson
74 Suggesting Palm Readings | Laura Sindell
76 Charley and Bob | Andrea Polli
78 Luxury Island and American River Archive | Edward Morris and Susannah Sayler
80 The Water Table | Jeremy Pickard
82 Pinhole Cameras | Laura Sindell
84 More Sugar, Dear? | Laura Sindell
86 Grounding Line – I’ve Seen the Water on the Wall | Lewis Hyde
87 The Manatees at Blue Springs | Lewis Hyde
88 Becoming Water | Gretel Ehrlich
89 Death and Poetry | Gretel Ehrlich
90 Fathom’s Portal | Buster Simpson
91 Stacked Chairs | June Wilson
92 Table to Deploy // The Arctic is Captiva | Buster Simpson

Captiva’s Outlook

“Hurricane Charley Captiva Damage” by Tampa Bay National Weather Service

If you stand on the shore at the high tide mark and look inland, the horizon (minus all the villas and trees) will be about at eye level. At five feet, the mighty peak of the island is less than the height of the average beachgoer, so the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predictions of sea-level rise by the end of the century don’t look good for Captiva. Their curves suggest an outside chance of up to six feet of sea-level rise by 2100, while conservative estimates range from three to four feet. For sure there will be a steady, measurable and troublesome encroachment month by month, year by year. The graph outlines the possibilities and suggests some of the potential timing.

Sea-level rise projections from NOAA

Sea-level rise projections from NOAA

Most likely the perceived impact will be twofold–first the steady rise of the spring and fall high tides moving to the edge of the beach and beyond, damaging the road and coastal homes. Second and more dramatic will be coastal storms gaining impact because of the higher, warmer seas. And if we are unlucky, storms may create surges which overtop and engulf the island, eroding the beaches, but maybe also piling debris to add to that five feet of internal height.

As a barrier island, Captiva will tend to change form and migrate under natural conditions, probably moving toward the mainland shore. This may happen in any event but there is much that we can do to postpone or even change this scenario.

Of course we need to act, reducing emissions and finding ways to store excess carbon, methane and other greenhouse gases. Anything we can do to enhance this process, we should. But even if Captiva and South Florida could achieve zero emissions, our past actions and limited ability to respond globally mean we face ongoing global temperature rise, melting ice sheets, warming oceans and rising seas.

So while thinking globally we also need to be acting locally, especially in vulnerable places like Captiva (and nearby Sanibel where my daughter has a house!) We may not stop water levels rising, but we can lessen the impact by deferring the damage and lengthening the time Captiva remains a beautiful, vibrant part of the world.

Unfortunately, the most obvious measures– structures like sea walls and dykes–won’t work. Captiva is a gift of nature, and natural systems are the best defense for rising seas. Mangroves are wonderful shore protectors as the intricate root structures break up all but the greatest waves and at the same time provide the basic structure of a whole ecosystem of plants and animals. Natural or manually reinforced sand dunes are also excellent natural protectors. Superstorm Sandy provided an unfortunate experiment demonstrating that fact. Communities with coastal dunes were much more protected than those that had cleared the dunes to improve the view.

We can also look at the design of our houses and infrastructure. Can water flow through rather than into our dwellings?

With the presence of the Rauschenberg Residency and its low profile to the sea, Captiva can contribute to the awareness of sea-level rise in two unique ways. One is by monitoring the impacts of the rising waters and the effectiveness of the measures taken to ameliorate impacts.

Secondly, through effective communication and outreach, artists and scientists can assist in defining the problem and helping people and communities adapt and deal with it. Thus Captiva is a living laboratory for the artist and an inspiration for the scientist.

Planning for the Inevitable: Proposal for Restoring Wetlands at the Rauschenberg Residency


Will wetlands be able to build vertically to keep pace with increases in sea level. Scroll down to bottom of page to learn move

Rauschenberg Residency has mangroves at the edge of the shoreline– something its Captiva neighbors (especially the mansion just to the south of the property!) should emulate.  Doing so provides important habitat for marine life .  The mangroves also help address issues of erosion and provide a buffer to hurricane winds.

All that is good, but I propose that we go a step further: Let’s return a larger portion of the property to its original habitat.  Let’s reclaim it for wetlands.

The mangroves at the Rauschenberg Residency are followed by lawn and landscaped gardens as we move upland.  Returning the lawn to wetlands– specifically a mangrove forest– would be a welcome gesture to address the rising seas.  As sea levels rise, having a larger and stronger  coastal habitat will provide more resilience –and the requisite space (and time) for the forests to adapt.

Let's go (inland)  beyond the water's edge.

We have mangroves at the shoreline:  Let’s go (inland) beyond the water’s edge!


In time, residency artists can walk from house to house via decks (marked in green on drawings). As sea levels rise, the houses and decks would be further elevated.

Mangroves matter: Mangroves are important for they create the interface between land and water where marine life takes hold.  Small fish find refuge from predators in their intricate roots, which also serve to protect the shoreline from erosion during hurricanes. (

Prelimanary sketches to the RRr


Let’s include a channel (into the grand lawn) to facilitate tidal flow. As it is the area is already prone to flooding,

IMG_1252 IMG_1255 IMG_1256

Here’s a link to the USGS website on how wetlands will adapt to sea level rise:  It addresses the issue I was presenting to the Rising Waters group about Dr. Tom Smith’s research on mangroves in the Everglades:  whether wetlands are able to build vertically to keep pace with increases in sea level.
“In marshes where soil volume decreases due to either insufficient inorganic sediment input or decreases in plant growth, the marshes are less capable of maintaining their elevation as the average water level (mean sea level) increases and consequently they become prone to deterioration.

The loss of wetland habitats and the important ecosystem functions they provide is a critical concern.  Wetlands provide critical habitat for wildlife; trap sediments, nutrients, and pollutants; cycle nutrients and minerals; buffer storm impacts on coastal environments, and exchange materials with adjacent ecosystems.  As wetland habitat is lost, there will be significant impacts to other ecosystems.  To complicate the issue, large portions of the coastal environment have been developed and management practices may affect ecosystem responses to sea-level rise as well.  This will exacerbate the vulnerability and impacts to plant and animal species in coastal regions.  Of particular concern are the impacts to environments such as wetlands that are critical to support migratory bird populations and fisheries.

Understanding whether or not marsh systems can tolerate higher sea level requires knowledge of whether the present–day marsh surface is able to maintain elevation with respect to SLR.  To monitor marsh surface elevation trends, USGS scientists have developed tools to measure changes in surface elevation in marshes (Fig CW2,”

Below is a link to the Reclamation Project installation we did up the coast in Pinellas County.  I am creating a similar temporary installation on the glass door in the studio.

Coastal Reforestation:

On November 18, 2008, Cortada joined USGS‘s Dr. Tom Smith and the Shorecrest Prep students in dedicating the mangrove “re-permnanent” installation he created at the Florida Botanical Gardens.

The eco-art installation, commissioned by Pinellas County Public Art and Design Program, features one-hundred fifty red mangrove seedlings in clear water-filled cups.  In September 2008, Dr. Smith led the Shorecrest Preparatory School students in collecting the mangrove propagules from Weedon Island Nature Preserve.  In 2009, students will plant this installation’s seedlings on Tampa Bay and replace them with a new batch.

Dr. Tom Smith, a scientist based at the U.S. Geological Service in St. Petersburg, FL, is internationally recognized as an expert on coastal ecosystems in general and mangroves in particular.  He has worked in forests in Florida, the Virgin Islands, Belize, Australia, Papua New Guinea, and elsewhere throughout Asia and the Pacific.  His research is aimed at understanding disturbance, both natural and man-made, and recovery in these important forests and especially at how to restore them.

Pine Island Sound is named after the now nearly absent Slash Pine

Pine Island Sound was named after the now nearly absent Slash Pine, a Florida native.  It was logged and replaced with the Australian Pine.  The exotic invasive now dominates the landscape (outcompeting upload and even the coastal habitats) and that spells trouble as sea levels rise…

Xavier Cortada, "Slash | Pine," digital art, 2015 (created during the Rising Waters Confab at the Rauschenberg Residency)

Xavier Cortada, “Slash | Pine,” digital art, 2015 (created during the Rising Waters Confab at the Rauschenberg Residency)

Removing exotic invasives originally planted to drain our wetlands

Australian Pine: Removed from North Captiva on May 13th, 2015

Australian Pine: Removed from North Captiva on May 13th, 2015

In times of rising seas, it might sound counter-intuitive to remove plants like Australian Pine or Melalucca.  These exotic invasive trees –which means they outcompete the native flora and replace it with a monoculture that does not support biodiversity– were intentionally planted a century ago to help dredgers drain swamps and wetlands across our state.

These trees can’t live in saltwater– so they won’t help with rising seas… .  The rising seas will kill them and everything else.  We need to work proactively to replace them with the native plants of our native coastal habitats.  These habitats need to thrive so that as seas rise they can hopefully (it depends how fast the seas rise) move upland and sustain our web of life.

Xavier Cortada, "Hanging Gardens: Australian Pine at Brickell Studio," 24 nails and exotic invasive tree saplings uprooted from Virginia Key on North wall of artist's Brickell Studio, 8 ft x 16 ft, 2010.

Xavier Cortada, “Hanging Gardens: Australian Pine at Brickell Studio,” 24 nails and exotic invasive tree saplings uprooted from Virginia Key on North wall of artist’s Brickell Studio, 8 ft x 16 ft, 2010.

A while ago, I created a project called “Hanging Gardens” to encourage participants to go out and remove these exotic invasive trees.  They would use them as commodity — for instance, we would make wall paper from the Australian pine cones ( and drapes from the Melalucca (

A week ago, I ripped an Australian Pine from a beach in Northern Captiva and hung it as a trophy in Rauschenberg’s studio.  I did so because I wanted to brag about my kill.

And encourage others to do the same.

Australian Pine Trophy at Rauschenberg's Studio

Australian Pine Trophy at Rauschenberg’s Studio

// To learn move about hanging gardens visit or see Facebook page.

Hanging Gardens at Auburn (2010): Using exotic invasive plants from East-Central Alabama, Hanging Gardens was implemented as the final assignment in Professor Christopher McNulty's combined intermediate-level and advanced-level sculpture class at Auburn University.

Hanging Gardens at Auburn (2010): Using exotic invasive plants from East-Central Alabama, Hanging Gardens was implemented as the final assignment in Professor Christopher McNulty’s combined intermediate-level and advanced-level sculpture class at Auburn University.


Using exotic invasive plants from East-Central Alabama, Hanging Gardens is also being implemented as the final assignment in Professor Christopher McNulty’s combined intermediate-level and advanced-level sculpture class at Auburn University.

The album ( contains in-process shots from late April 2010. Some students are far along. Others quite a bit behind. They seem to have focused on privet, wisteria, and kudzu. Final crits are on April 30 and May 3rd, 2010.


4. Hanging Garden

Problem: Eco-artists work with scientists to develop ways of engaging communities in bioremediation. The natural world is truly an interconnected one. Sometimes, rebuilding healthy ecosystems requires not just replacing the native species humans removed, but also eliminating the dangerous ones humans introduced. The Hanging Gardens project is a series of indoor eco-art sculptures and installations developed by Miami-based artist Xavier Cortada that address the problem of exotic invasive species destroying South Florida’s ecosystems.

Describing the project,

Cortada has written:

“For ‘Hanging Gardens,’ I propose to create vertical gardens… comprised not of species we want to grow, but of trees we want to kill. The installations would be a series of five “hanging” gardens, each created using plant matter (e.g.: cut branches, vines, bark, cones) from a different exotic invasive tree cut down and removed from the local environment… [I will] work with volunteers to remove exotic invasive species from the community and use the plant matter as the material/medium for the installation… Serving as public hanging gardens, the installations would enlist local residents in re-creating them at home. Making commodities out of plants and trees too costly for the state to remove, the eco-art project would encourage residents to seek, cut down and remove the vegetation themselves. Showcasing their work, these participants would then encourage their neighbors and friends to also “un-grow” plant species that threaten the their local ecosystem as vertical gardens in their homes. Indeed, through Hanging Gardens I want to encourage today’s city dwellers to go on a new kind of wilderness safari.”

For this assignment, you will each create a Hanging Garden sculpture using invasive species that have been introduced to the ecosystems of East-Central Alabama.

After reviewing Cortada’s project online, we will have a guest speaker from the Alabama Invasive Plant Council lecture to the class. You will then choose and research an invasive plant to use as the raw material for your sculpture. You will use the problem-solving process covered in the Introduction to Sculpture course to begin exploring this problem. We will discuss these ideas as a class before you begin developing prototypes of your sculptures.

Caution: Do not trespass on private property to obtain your wood. It is illegal to harvest wood from state parks. Wear blaze orange colors during hunting season. Beware of poison ivy. Do not fell large trees without professional assistance.

Possible Materials & Tools: You must again use wood to create a significant portion of your object, but all materials are at your disposal.

To consider how eco-art can engage with community to mitigate environmental damage and to
help rebuild local ecosystems

To consider the broader ecological context as a source for untraditional artistic materials.

To understand the theory and practice of cradle-to-cradle design

To use drawing to investigate forms, concepts and construction methods

To execute your sculpture with an appropriate level of craft.

Value: 40 points

Proposal due: Working drawings due


The Drowning Man Festival

We propose an annual festival whose goals are

•  to educate about sea level rise
•  to shame and ridicule climate change deniers
•  to have fun

The Drowning Man festival will be held in coastal cities and towns threatened by sea level rise. We suggest beginning with sites on Florida’s east cost such as Miami.

The focus of each year’s celebration will be a large, effigy figure representing a current and well-known climate-change denier. The figure will float off shore until the final night of the festival whereupon it will be sunk into the sea.

The drowning of the Man will be a spectacle in the spirit of Burning Man, but instead of using fireworks, the Drowning Man will come alive through fountains, mist and other water propulsion and hydraulic technology in a grand celebration of water and its life-giving properties, that at the same time expresses the destructive power of water and the dangers of sea level rise.

Through an open call, artists, designers, engineers and other creative makers will be invited to make proposals for the Drowning Man.  Strict design guidelines for the creation of the Man will pose a significant and important challenge that will inspire and encourage innovation in sustainable technology.  For example, in keeping with the environmental mission of the Drowning Man Festival, the figure must be made of materials that are either biodegradable, easily recycled, non-damaging or even beneficial to the ecosystem. For example, parts of the structure might be designed to sink and become habitat for fish, oysters, coral or other marine life.

Participants in Drowning Man will be encouraged to bring or create art works that in some way reflect on climate change.  Projects that demonstrate fun and sustainable ways of living on or near the water or revitalize the sea and its shores and wildlife will be encouraged and supported (for example, a floating home that explores small-scale human or water-powered living or an initiative to re-forest mangrove habitats).   A jury will select the best of these works and their creators will have the privilege of sinking ‘the Man.’

The festival will have an educational component. There may be lectures by climate change specialists, documentary films, pamphlets, etc.

The festival will also be festive with music, performance, and the general, relaxed goofing off that comes from taking a break from energy consumption. It could be held at any time of the year, but the weeks in March when most colleges have their spring break may be ideal.

Drowning Man will have ritual constraints that mark it as time outside of time. There might be an emphasis on gifting rather than market exchange. There might be a moratorium on the use of fossil fuels and artificial light—no gasoline, kerosene, coal, natural gas, or propane, just humans, horses, dogs, solar panels, wind, and falling water; no electric light, just the sun, the moon, and the stars.

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