So what year are you and what’s your major?
I’m a senior – old and decrepit. I study Environmental Policy and Government.
That’s really cool! Why are you interested in those things, specifically?
I’m more interested in environmental communication and environmental justice than I am strictly in the policy side. I’ve always cared about the environment but during my time in college I’ve become very interested in how we teach people and talk about the environment as well as the justice dimensions. When I say that, I mean the ways in which the things that happen to the abstracted idea of “the environment” affect people, especially people who are already marginalized – people of color and any other communities that have limited resources to deal with environmental issues. In that sense, I guess I’ve always cared about social justice, so linking that up with the environment and having both areas that I’m very interested in just made a lot of sense.
Does that mean you’re planning to do something like environmental or social advocacy after you graduate?
Planning might be a bit of a stretch, but hoping is more accurate. I’m not sure exactly what I want, in terms of what’s next – both professionally and where or how I want to live. It’s all a little up in the air. But yes, I am interested in advocacy and activism. Honestly, I never really know how to talk about what I’m interested in, how to describe it to people, because I want to fix everything. Or rather, I want to heal everything – I don’t know if I can fix everything. But one of the things I’m really interested in is this idea of connection. How you can bring people together while also fighting injustice. So I think some sort of community organizing and advocacy work would be really interesting. We’ll see.
When you talk about connections, do you mean educating people more about these issues?
When I talk about connections, I guess I mean a lot of things. A lot of environmental advocacy and activism aims to bring communities together to fight injustice. I think there’s something really special about that because you are not only fighting the short-term issue of, say, a proposed coal plant in an area that’s already burdened by environmental issues and other injustices, but you’re also bringing a community of people together at the same time. And that’s one of the more enduring, powerful things that comes out of any sort of activism or advocacy. Connections are what I’m interested in, in the broadest of senses. In my art, in my environmental work, in my personal life. I just feel like there is a lot of distance in spaces – like in the environmental context, people are distanced from what is happening to the environment. I think that’s one of the issues we have with climate change – it is a big, distant thing that people don’t feel connected to because they don’t understand how it’s affecting them or other people, already. In my day to day life, I’m interested in how we connect to each other and the physical spaces around us – like here in the woods, or anything else we’re interacting with.
That’s really interesting to hear. Actually, connections, broadly speaking, are something I like to think about as well. And as a geology major, I’m more interested in the purely scientific side of things, while policy is more of a social science, so it’s cool that your field bridges the gap between the two.
Definitely. I have a fair amount of science background – that’s what I came to this from. I
took a class on watersheds last year, and that was one of the coolest classes. Because it’s all about connections between things like streams. The way a watershed works is that there are all these streams and other smaller bodies of water that are coming into the big body of water, eventually. So it’s talking about the landscapes around the bodies of water and the people in those landscapes, and how that’s all connected to the water and what’s happening in the more natural environment. I loved that class, especially because I got to go around the Williamsburg area and just see all of these streams and also the communities that are near them. That’s also what I’m interested in, because it’s how you can connect people to the things around them. For example, I work mostly on stuff in the Chesapeake Bay region. Everyone who lives here, now, is in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and a lot of students who go here are from NoVA so they’ve grown up in it, too. But again, I think a lot of people have this distance from the Bay and from the ways in which the health of the Bay affects them and especially marginalized communities. So one of the things I’m interested in is how we can break down that distance. And there’s no straight, easy answer to that – I think it’s something we all have to think about and work towards.
You’re right, because it requires you to present the information in a way that would reach people in the best way, and that’s pretty difficult sometimes. People often don’t like relating to things that are unfamiliar to them – they’re more likely to just dismiss them, so that is a problem.
That’s what I’m really interested in, actually, how to talk to people about these issues. I think when you say “environmental education,” it gives the sense of people in schools, so I like to say “environmental communication” so that includes everybody that exists in the entire world and makes the information accessible. And we talk about accessibility as a narrow field, but I think making our communication and education more accessible is the ultimate goal, so we can reach more people and have them connect in meaningful ways. Actually, in my first couple of years here, I did a lot of work on art-based environmental education – how we can use public art to teach people about the environment. I assume I’ll wind my way back there, whether in my professional life or not. It’s definitely something I want in my personal life. Art is such a cool way to talk to people, because it’s not as intellectualized as long articles and speeches which can turn people off really easily, since they’re intimidated or bored. Art makes things beautiful, which is great, and it can also teach people in what I think is a more effective way.
You started talking about art and how important it is to you, so…what kinds of art do you usually do?
I’ve started drawing and painting a lot more this year. I’ve been thinking a lot about issues and questions of scale. I used to just do a lot of little drawings and paintings in a sketchbook, so like 8 ½ x 11 or 11 x 14. But now I have these huge reels of paper, so I’ve started hanging them up in my room and painting and drawing on them. The sizes are much bigger, which helps me portray my body and my physicality better, and it has just been a really interesting experience. I’ve done a little bit of sculpture and public art. I’m interested in trying some performance art. I just like anything that is art, although I’m not especially musically talented. But anything that is visual in any way is great. I started writing more poetry this year. It’s a good way to get my latent angst out. I made my first zine – but then I had to explain to all the old people what a zine was. I love to make a lot of different kinds of art. It would be cool to do more sculpture and public or performance art – things that are bigger scales and relate to people’s physicality. Art that involves the body in any way is just really cool.
So is there a theme to your art, usually, like a particular subject to your work, or is there a huge variety of stuff that you draw inspiration from?
I actually have no idea. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I met this really cool artist while I was abroad and she was talking to me about what her art said. I was in this gallery, looking at her pieces at this opening that she had invited me to, and I was trying to figure out what the narrative was. She was able to explain to me that it was all about visibility and invisibility. I thought that was really interesting, because I wouldn’t have necessarily seen that, just looking at her art. So I’d say that for the past year, I’ve been wondering what the art I’ve already produced says. I even consider it in the context of what I’m in the process of producing – and when I say that, I mean my ideas that I hope will become art someday. But I think coming up with ideas is the hardest part so I feel like I’ve already started working on them even if I haven’t actually produced anything yet. So yeah, that’s a really good question, and I’ve been thinking about it – I guess to little avail. If other people looked at my stuff and had distance, maybe they could see it more clearly.
I think about connectivity a lot, for sure, but also a lot about forms and shapes that are appealing to me. So I’m interested in the shape of the body, and in particular, my body –
the ways in which our physicality fits together. But I also appreciate forms that we see in natural spaces. There’s this shape I keep coming back to, it’s a sort of soft curve that was part of a sculpture I made last year. And the other day I was actually on a run in the Matoaka woods and I saw a tree that was shaped just like that form. So I think that what I see around me in more natural spaces also influences me – the forms that just seem to occur by accident really appeal to me.
When you’re looking at the world around you, do you automatically see it through an artist’s lens, or is it that something in nature just catches your eye and strikes inspiration, making you feel like seeing it in that light?
When I was growing up, I spent a lot more time looking at art than making it, for a while. I made art, but not consistently – and at periods of time, it wasn’t very good. So I guess I’m was a little better at looking at things around me and appreciating the artistic beauty in them rather than actually making things, although that may have changed, now. I did a lot
of photography for a while, that’s really what I started with, and I took this amazing sculpture class two semesters ago. The whole course was definitely a pretty challenging experience because I had never done sculpture before. But the slowness of sculpture was one of my favorite parts about it. There was this piece I made, and I spent dozens of hours sanding it down with a power saw. It was a very intimate experience because I was shaping it for so long. That made me think about slowing down to draw things rather than just taking pictures. So when I was abroad, last semester, I took basically no pictures. The only picture I have from a week-long excursion to Berlin is of the aisle of pickles in the grocery store because I thought it was really funny. I kind of wish I had – I feel like that was perhaps not the wisest decision. Essentially, I took this big step back from photography since I used to take a lot of pictures – like artsy photos, not just “hey, I went on this vacation!” pictures. Because it became so quick that I didn’t have to slow down and just look at what was happening around me, and I realized I didn’t like that. I spent a lot of the last year trying to slow down and give myself the time I need to process things – in terms of aesthetics and my own feelings.
Yeah, I think it’s really important to slow down. Especially, at least to me, the way the world is
nowadays is just about moving to the next thing, getting the next task finished, and sometimes it’s nice to just take a step back and reflect on how far I’ve come already.
I agree with that. The world seems slower when I’m sitting here, on Mataoka dock. I feel like so much of life is just these things happening and changing around us, all the time, which is pretty cool. I mean, I love how exciting and chaotic the world is, but sometimes it’s nice to just have some quiet. I’m a big fan of quiet. I like the chaos, but it’s nice to have some calm solitude. I was out here two weeks ago, on the day there was supposed to be a supermoon, and it was raining. I was the only person out here, which I usually am, and it was probably 10:30 at night and really serene. The whole sky was covered in clouds, so you couldn’t see the moon at all, but it was just a beautiful gray. And even the lake – it was all flat, it looked like a picture, almost, because there were all these different shades of gray and black and white. It was of the times I think the lake has been most beautiful. And it felt right for that night, too, which is cool.
And I also love the birds here. I have friends who are birders, and they’re so patient. But I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not patient enough to be a birder.
But you were patient enough to sand down that sculpture for so many hours.
That’s true! So maybe I could become a birder someday. Geese are actually my favorite animal because they’re so goofy looking and they sound ridiculous, but then you look at them fly and they’re so graceful! I love it. I feel like they’re my spirit animal. They’re a bit weird and annoying, but they’re also very charming. There was the one night that I was out here and there were these geese just gliding along the surface of the lake. They were right between the treeline and the reflection of the treeline so it was the most amazing, surreal thing. I kept trying to draw it afterwards. I couldn’t capture it exactly because I was trying to draw the way it felt. I think a lot about how we use art to document things. Because that’s the hard part. I can draw geese, but trying to show how it felt that night, watching those geese glide along – that’s really hard. I’ve even been thinking about drawing portraits of people, but I’m interested using art to show how that person feels to me – and that’s a really messy concept. Because first you have to figure out how they feel, and then you have to express that to other people. Art is hard.
Speaking of art, you said you’re not as musically talented, but I know you’re very involved with the Meridian. What exactly do you do there?
Every Tuesday, I’ve started an art night, where people just come and we coexist while drawing and painting together. It depends on the week, because we just do what we feel and how we feel, but sometimes we do group drawing. I’ll have a big piece of paper in the center of the room and we’ll all draw on it, on different parts of it. Then, we’ll switch places at some point, so it will create this really cool piece. Sometimes it’s really ugly but it’s beautiful in its ugliness. I love that idea of creating art with people. I think collaborative art is really cool. This isn’t art that we’re producing for some fancy means, it’s just to have a place to be together. I think bringing people together in spaces is one of the cool things about art. I was actually inspired to do the group drawing when I was abroad. There was this anarcho-punk version of the Meridian, a lot more radical and political, and a little bit sketchier. It had this really cool concert series that I’d go to with my friends who were artists. There was one night there where they did a group screen printing, so everyone drew something on this overhead slide which they then screen-printed. That night, I was with my friends who were artists, except they were art students and French. I felt really self-conscious, so I actually didn’t contribute and left feeling terrible because I am an artist. And I don’t know if that will be my vocation, but I am someone who loves art and produces art. But that night, I didn’t claim that label of “artist,” which got me to thinking about group art. So part of me feels like I finally did claim it, because not only do I contribute to group art but I also am responsible for making it happen in this space.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about, as a senior, is what I want to do to leave this place better than I found it. I spend a lot of time thinking about the kinds of spaces and things I would have wanted, as a freshman. I’ve been involved this semester, working with some folks from SEAC to increase our focus on environmental justice and issues in the Chesapeake Bay region, because those are both things that are important to me. I would’ve loved to have a space to work on them, freshman year, when I came in. I’m just sappy and sentimental right now, I guess, thinking about what freshman me needed. I’m trying to make those spaces but also be the sort of person that I needed freshman year, too, which is a pretty big goal, but a good aim, I think. It’s all very sentimental, as I am. There are a lot of loose ends right now, which I feel is what it’s supposed to be. Even though it’s hard sometimes.
I think closure is a myth. Anything that we think of as an ending is probably a beginning, and vice versa. It’s definitely a weird time in life. I don’t know if you’ve ever read about liminal spaces, but it’s these spaces that only exist in relation to other spaces, like airports or hallways. I saw something about them on the internet a while ago and thought they were so cool. Because I feel like life has its liminal spaces as well. I think senior year and just where I am in my world is definitely one of them. Part of the point of liminal spaces is that they just feel weird, but not bad. That’s pretty much how this year has been, for me. I definitely feel a little lost, but also a little found.