“We’ve Made Our Bed” is the title of the interactive art installation ecological artist and educator Shelby Silver will unveil during the Cannon Beach Gallery Group’s inaugural Earth and Ocean Arts Festival running through Sunday at various locations throughout Cannon Beach.
However, although several elements of the event will call attention to the global climate crisis, plastic marine debris proliferation and other ecological emergencies, the festival is more importantly a celebration of the natural wonders of the Oregon Coast and a catalyst for uniting artists, organizations and individuals through heightened environmental awareness.
“Art kind of amplifies that message,” marketing coordinator Alexis Jackson said.
The festival weekend is brimming with a variety of activities, many of which blend the ecological and artistic, including elements of the gallery group’s discontinued Plein Air Festival.
Five local nonprofits are also participating in the event, including Friends of Cape Falcon Marine Reserve, Friends of Haystack Rock, North Coast Land Conservancy, Sea Turtles Forever and Wildlife Center of the North Coast.
Of the three events put on by the gallery group, Jackson said, “this is by far the most heavily stacked event we’ve had thus far.”
Spreading a message with dance
Hailing from New York City, the Artichoke Dance Company will be presenting two eco-focused pieces at the festival. The first, which takes places at 10 a.m., will start at the foot of Second Street near the dunes.
During the beach performance, the audience “will take a journey with us,” said artistic director Lynn Neuman, an accomplished choreographer and activist who has spent years merging art and environmentalism to create change.
While starting at the street level, the group of dancers will then transition onto the sand and move toward the water.
“The performance will progress over a geographic location,” Neuman said, adding the audience can take off their shoes and travel with the progression or stay and observe from street level.
“With site specific and adaptive work, it’s about also experiencing the site yourself.”
Because the dancers will be performing on sand, which is malleable, the work illustrates the challenges for humans operating in a shifting environment and the ways in which they can move with the change.
“I’m using the creative process as a lens to dig deeper into how we need to work and be as a society,” Neuman said. “People need to see a different way of being in the world than they are being right now, and the arts allow us to have a paradigm shift and see something we hadn’t considered before.”
Dance is able to provide a powerful narrative and equally important image for advocating change, and it does so in a way that’s more accessible and less didactic and top-down heavy, Neuman said.
When it comes to climate change and other environmental crises, “people get frozen and dance is about movement, so it’s also metaphorical,” Neuman said. “You can take one step, and then you can take another step.”
Looking with love not fear
Artichoke Dance Company’s second performance will follow a panel discussion, to be held at 10 a.m. at the Coaster Theatre Playhouse.
Neuman and Silver, along with several members of the environmental community, will engage in a conversation that explores the intersection of art, creativity, nature and conservation.
“Even within the environmental community, there is division about how to move forward,” said Neuman, who is a proponent of systems theory, studying models of interconnectivity and understanding the cause and effect of each action.
“A lot of my talk at the community level is around personal responsibility and taking action when you feel like you can in your lives. For everyone, that’s very different.”
Sunday’s dance performance following the discussion will integrate Silver’s art installation, which centers around a queen-sized canopy bed made from the remnants of about 1,000 pounds of reclaimed fishing rope and ghost net. It symbolically represents the ocean and the many roles humans have played — both knowingly and unknowingly — to contribute “to its overall decline,” Silver said.
Her main opponent is plastic marine debris, but she encourages people to approach the problem not with fear and guilt, which often leaves people feeling overwhelmed and crippled, but with love, which opens a path for “limitless solutions,” she said.
Through connection and collaboration, she added, each small action culminates into larger capacities for making a difference.
“We then feel empowered and act accordingly,” she said.