On Tuesday, world leaders will convene at the United Nations to discuss all matters global warming at the UN Climate Summit. Across town today, a reported 310,000 people from places as far reaching as Lima, Peru and the South Bronx loudly made their way through midtown to broadcast their message about the urgency of our warming earth. The People’s Climate March is being called the biggest of its kind and the charged up scene on the street today was impressive.
I spent several hours walking amid the successive waves of marchers, and to no surprise, it was the handmade signage and creations, many of them collaboratively built, that captivated the viewer. The necessity of light, mobile and evocative assemblages made the larger and elaborate protest symbols even more interesting.
The giant puppet “Madre Tierra” built by Puerto Rican political arts collective Papel Machete, bobbed above the crowd and could be seen from many blocks away. Reminiscent of one of Peter Schumann’s Bread and Puppet creations, Madre Tierra’s long arms, massive head and tall stature were supported by guide poles and several people holding her up.
On the theme of light and large, parachutes were used for an eye catching approach to banner building. The big circumference allows for an expansive canvas to paint symbols and messages. When lifted aloft the chute becomes a billowing canopy for children to run and dance beneath. Easy reading and joyous play all in one.
One notable parachute banner was by artist Rosario Gonzalez. She lead a team from the immigrant rights group Culture Strike to paint a giant butterfly as metaphor for the journeys of undocumented artists and workers.
Many of the constructions that I saw were designed, assembled, and painted by teams of people and then handed off to other folks to be carried during the march. Joe Mallo recounted the heady creative environment of his Be Electric Studios, that along with People’s Climate Art Space, became two hubs in Bushwick for artists to stage and share materials to make pieces ahead of the march.
A collaborative and interactive installation that provided nice closure to the march was the “Climate Ribbon Grove,” installed in car repair lot across the Javits Center. Artist Swoon and activist group Climate Ribbon erected a circular sanctuary and lined it with ribbons. Participants wrote their name and message declaring what he or she hoped would not disappear from the earth. The ribbons were then read aloud by a stranger. Swoon provided the gateway and exit to the grove, framed by a mirror reflection of a giant sky gazing woman shielded with crab breast plate. Visitors would egress through a honeycomb lattice domb.
There was not much performance art as I had hoped, however, John Bonafede made up for that by dragging a trashcan lid filled with steaming dry ice for four hours straight followed by two friends carrying the Alaska state flag. Dripping in sweat and dressed in a suit — sartorial shorthand for corporate bad guy — John’s endurance piece “Diminishing Circle” was a simple and solemn comment on melting polar ice.
I asked Jill Cashman, lifelong Manhattan resident, what she thought of the creations marching in front of her and her dogs, just a few blocks from her apartment. “It’s so heartfelt. Their investment is obvious,” she said.