Thursday, February 22, 2018

''Annihilation'' author Jeff VanderMeer warmly and personally endorses the rising new genre of ''cli-fi'' and cli-fi novelists as well

Hi friends! And welcome new subscribers!

It's been an exciting month for climate-conscious artists and writers. First, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Jeff VanderMeer for my monthly cli-fi trends "Burning Worlds" column at the Chicago Review of Books. We spoke about his new novella, The Strange Bird, and the film adaptation of his novel Annihilation--both released this month. Scroll down for a link to our chat! -- [''Annihilation'' author Jeff VanderMeer warmly and personally endorses the rising new genre of ''cli-fi'' and cli-fi novelists as well. Over at Pacific Standard magazine, Jeff warmly and personally endorsed and championed the rising cli-fi genre and cli-fi novelists, telling John Maher in a Q&A there: ''Sometimes you need new fictional modes. You hear the term cli-fi, for example, and I've heard some science fiction writers say, "Well, why do we need that when we have the term 'science fiction'?" Well, because it means climate fiction, and anyone can write climate fiction. It's not necessarily science fiction—it's not necessarily set in the future! And the reason is that it's happening right now. Climate change is happening right now. The future is happening right now.'']

Below you'll also find links to some of my favorite reads this month. Need more VanderMeer? Check out his round-up of must-reads that he listed for the Strand in New York City. You'll also find a discussion of the environmentally conscious work of early 20th-century poet Don Marquis, a review of the Climate Museum's first art exhibition [note: the museum does not exist yet in physical form and won't for many more years], and a funny (and insightful) review of the "fatberg"display in London. If you're feeling philanthropic, check out the song download whose proceeds go to a good climate-related cause. And if you're feeling creative, take advantage of the opportunity to submit an original cli-fi short story  to win a $1,000 grand prize. (If you enter, tell us about the cli-fi story you submitted on Twitter using the hashtag #burningworlds.)

I'm also excited to announced that this month's newsletter includes an original artist interview you can't find anywhere else. Meet recent Brown University grad Andres Chang from Westfield, New Jersey, a young 20-something artist who draws from climate research to create thought-provoking performances and art installations. We spoke recently about his latest work and why it's more important than ever to evoke climate issues in all artistic mediums.

Thanks for subscribing! --Amy Brady

Amy: Tell me about your background.

Andres: I have a dual background in visual art and Earth Science from my undergrad days at Brown University, but it wasn't until fairly recently that those things began to converge. Climate science is a fascinating and relatively new field of research, and it's relevant to all of us. But one of the challenges of climate science is that it involves scales of time and space that are so different than what we humans experience in our day-to-day lives, and that makes it a really interesting subject to explore creatively.

Amy: Would you say that your art has social action directive?

Andres: I lean away from the term "activism art.” I think that art that is overly communicative, or too direct, is often less effective, because it's not giving people the sort of reflection that they want and need from art. So when I'm making art, I'm not trying to tell people one thing, I'm trying to make them reflect on their relationship with their environment. My newest piece is an interactive projection called "Business as Usual: 1967 to 2067." It's a projection that's derived from a climate simulation, and therefore by default, is a circular map of temperature over the arctic. It assumes that there are no humans on Earth. But when a viewer approaches the projection it changes into a "business as usual" scenario, one where humans continue polluting. The projection runs from 1967, the year of the first-ever climate simulation, to 2067 a hundred years later. The art doesn’t tell the viewer anything that's not explicit in the data, but through this activation, it speaks at a much higher volume.

Amy: I’m also fascinated by another recent project of yours, “the eternal ocean.” Tell me about this piece.

Andres: For “the eternal ocean” I built a massive steel buoy and launched it off the coast of Rhode Island.  I balanced on the buoy on a platform built above the waves for as long as possible. During the challenge there were microphones recording the sounds of my body—my heartbeat, my breathing—and others attached to the buoy to catch the resonances of this man made object floating out at sea. The buoy was later reconstructed in a gallery along with the sound environment captured by the mics. The viewer could hear everything—the heartbeat, the sound of the waves, but my body was absent. In a way, I was inviting the viewer to take my place on the buoy and perform for themselves my confrontation with the environment.

Amy: How long were you out there?

Andres: About five hours. But I didn't want to emphasize the athleticism of the project because that's not really the point. That's why the performance itself wasn't open to the public. There is photo and video documentation of the performance on a portal online, and I think that evidence is very important, but I generally keep it separate from the sound environment in the exhibition.

Amy: What strikes me most about your work is that you are always exploring the relationship between the human and the natural world. What are the challenges of this relationship, and why do we have such a hard time figuring out how to have a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship with the natural world?

Andres: Humans have always had an intimate connection to the climate. Twenty thousand years ago, North America was covered in a massive ice sheet. The first agrarian societies emerged only after the ice sheet melted and sea levels stabilized. Humans basically found their niche in a stable, de-glaciated climate. To this day, we remain heavily reliant on this climate, but that carefully balanced relationship has largely been overshadowed by capital and by the effects of globalism. So, one of the things I'm really worried about with climate change is not only the effects it can have on sea levels and global inequality but its effects on all culture. So much historically has been based on our relationship to Earth. That’s something we often forget in our globalized world.

Amy: What's next for you?

Andres: Right now I’m focused on a series tentatively called “Open Climate Research.” I'm really leaning into interactive possibilities because that has proven most resonant with viewers. One of the things I hope to accomplish with the project—and this is something much more educational than what I’ve done in the past—is to allow viewers to interact and play with raw climate data. I’m excited to see how strongly I can merge climate research with art.

Andres Chang is an artist whose work probes the ever-present negotiation between humans and natural systems. He employs numerical computation, drawing, construction, sound design, and performance to produce work from an interdisciplinary perspective. Climate change is a common thread throughout his work, and Andres alternately designs projects that respond intimately to environmental conditions and as speculative replacements for a dying planet.

Photo: From Chang's exhibition/performance project "the eternal ocean." Credit: Cole Moore
February's "Burning Worlds" Column

Author Jeff VanderMeer is having one of the businest months of his life. The Strange Bird, his novella set in the same universe as Borne, hit shelves, and the film adaptation of his novel Annihilation opens in theaters across America. We spoke about both projects -- and his thoughts on climate change -- in this month's "Burning Worlds" cli-fi trends column. Over at Pacific Standard magazine, Jeff warmly and personally endorsed and championed the rising cli-fi genre and cli-fi novelists, telling John Maher in a Q&A there: ''Sometimes you need new fictional modes. You hear the term cli-fi, for example, and I've heard some science fiction writers say, "Well, why do we need that when we have the term 'science fiction'?" Well, because it means climate fiction, and anyone can write climate fiction. It's not necessarily science fiction—it's not necessarily set in the future! And the reason is that it's happening right now. Climate change is happening right now. The future is happening right now.''

Jeff VanderMeer's must-read book list

Want more VanderMeer? Check out this list of must-reads he created for Strand Books in NYC. The list features cli-fi, sci-fi, meditative narratives about nature and humans, and some insightful nonfiction about the natural world.
Installation shot of exhibition
The eco-conscious poetry of Don Marquis

Novelist Kathleen Rooney discusses the prescient work of turn-of-the-century poet Don Marquis, who challenged humankind's presumed dominance over the earth. (via The Poetry Foundation)
Installation shot of exhibition
The Climate Museum's first exhibition

The Climate Museum in New York City, one of the first museums of its kind in the world [which does not yet exist as a physical museum in a real building and won't for many more years]], launched its inaugural art exhibition this month. Read all about it at Hyperallergic.
The "fatberg" on display in London
A "fatberg" on display in London

All large cities have "fatbergs"-- lumps of fat, grease, and debris caught in sewer pipes. But London has decided to honor theirs with a museum exhibition. Read this funny, disgusting, and disturbing review of the exhibition in The New Yorker.
Cover of single
A song to benefit hurricane victims

People's Climate Music released a version of The Beatles song "Here Comes the Sun." It's available for download just about anywhere you get your digital music. Proceeds go to relief efforts for people affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. 
Sunrise from space
Want to write cli-fi?

The Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative at Arizona State University is hosting a cli-fi short story  writing contest. The winner will receive a US$1K prize. Deadline is February 28. The judge is KSR. If you submit, tell us all about your entry on Twitter using the hashtag #burningworlds!
Theatrical image of man and polar bear

On April 11, April 19, and May 9, I'll be moderating a conversation series at the New York Society Library called Art and Activism in the Anthropocene.The event is co-sponsored by Guernica magazine. Tickets are free but reservations are required. Reserve your seat today to hear some of the most important voices in climate art and activism! Panelists include Jeff VanderMeer, William T. Vollman, Helen Phillips, Amitav Ghosh, Zaria Forman, and others.


[An Off Off  Broadway 'cli-fi' stage play 'Extreme Whether' is set for March 1-18 run in Manhattan at La MaMa Theater .]
  • Ethics, Excess, Extinction, an art exhibition featuring Nick Brandt, Antonio Briceño, Rohan Chhabra, Ryder Cooley, Billie Lynn Grace, Gale Hart, Andrea Hasler, Chris Jordan, Kahn & Selesnick, Karen Knorr, Kiki Smith, Karolina Sobecka, Esther Traugot, and Jessica Harrison. El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, Texas. January 26 - May 13
  • Climate, Capitalism, and Crisis, a discussion with author Kim Stanley Robinson & theatre artist Julia Levine. Housing Works Bookstore, New York City. March 23,
  • On the Edge: From Combahee to Winyah, an exhibition featuring photography by J. Henry Fair that highlights the current and future consequences of expansion on the South Carolina shoreline. The City Gallery, Charleston, South Carolina. January 20 - March 4
*Want your event listed? Send links to Amy at
ABOUT THE EDITOR: Amy Brady is the deputy publisher of Guernica magazine and the senior editor of the Chicago Review of Books, where she writes a monthly ''cli-fi trends'' column called “Burning Worlds.” It’s dedicated to exploring how contemporary fiction addresses issues of climate change. This newsletter expands that project by looking at the work of artists in all mediums. Amy’s writing on literature, culture, and the environment can be found or is forthcoming in The Village Voice, the Los Angeles TimesPacific StandardThe Dallas Morning NewsMcSweeney’s, Literary Hub, and elsewhere. To learn more about Amy’s work, visit her website:
This newsletter may be duplicated and forwarded as long as it remains unaltered and is replicated in its entirety. 

Information contained in “Burning Worlds” is collected from many sources and is researched to the best of the editor's ability. Readers should verify information.
"Burning Worlds" logo designed by Cheryl Burke (

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