“I never wanted this to be a reality,” artist Eve Mosher wrote on her website the week Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New York and New Jersey. ”Five years ago I couldn’t have even imagined it.”
In 2007 Mosher created High Water Line, a public art project in Manhattan and Brooklyn that brought the topic of climate change directly to the city’s residents. Using topographic maps, satellite images, research from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University, and a Heavy Hitter (a machine typically used to draw chalk lines on ball fields), Moser walked 70 miles of New York coastline, drawing a blue chalk line on the ground ten feet above sea level—the anticipated high water line due to climate change. In other areas, where she was unable to draw a line, she marked the high water boundary with illuminated beacons.
Elizabeth Kolbert describes Eve’s project in a recent issue of The New Yorker :
Ten feet above sea level was the height that waters were expected to reach in New York during a hundred-year flood. Owing to climate change, though, the whole concept of a hundred-year flood was becoming obsolete. By the twenty-twenties, according to a report that Mosher read by a scientist at Columbia University, what used to be a hundred-year flood could be happening once every forty years. By the twenty-fifties, as sea levels continued to rise, it would become a twenty-year event. And by the twenty-eighties it could be occurring as often as once every four years. Mosher couldn’t understand why a projection like this wasn’t a major topic of discussion in Washington. In fact, it wasn’t being discussed at all.
As Mosher made her way around Brooklyn and, later, Manhattan, she hoped that the High Water Line, as she called her project, would prompt people to ask her what she was doing. “I wanted to leave this visually interesting mark, to open up a space for conversation,” she said last week
The audaciousness of Mosher’s project allowed her to engage with an economically and racially diverse group of residents. As she walked through neighborhoods, she talked to people, handed out flyers, and explained her motivations for drawing a 70-mile line through their communities. Workshops, education booklets, and a website were also an integral part of the project.
Mosher’s work exists in that imaginative, provocative place where art, politics, and landscape converge. Like striking picketers or civil rights advocates, Mosher understands that the singular act of walking can be a powerful form of public protest. She is also working in the tradition of artists like Dennis Oppenheim and Richard Long, whose seminal 1967 project A Line Made By Walking forever altered the way we view performance and sculpture. This is a powerful example of art as evidence—of bringing art directly to a community instead of expecting the community to come to you.
But it’s one thing to imagine a worst case scenario, and another to experience it firsthand. “It is an awkward situation in which I find myself,” Mosher wrote on her blog after Sandy struck. “These projects are really really important in engaging around the very harsh, scary and sad realities of climate change. But seeing it is another thing. It hurts. It is scary. I am speechless often and shocked by the images.”
In the below video, we see Mosher marking the high-water line in DUMBO, while engaging with children and park visitors. But just a few weeks ago, this was the scene in DUMBO: the famous Jane’s Carousel glowing eerily as the flood waters rose. (Not to mention the heartbreaking photographs still coming out of New Jersey, Queens, Red Hook, Long Island and other hard hit areas where many people are still suffering).
“I have pictures of where I drew the line and, if you look at the debris line, they’re pretty close,” Mosher told the The New Yorker . “For instance, the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, I drew the line right along that entrance that we keep seeing the flooded images of.”
As Mosher discovered during her project, a surprisingly large area of land in New York lies below the high-water line. Sadly, many New Yorkers found out this fact the hard way.
Mosher says that she loves New York, her adopted home, and wants to protect it. On Halloween, when the artist posted a new blog entry about the effects of Sandy on her beloved city, she titled her post “I never wanted to be right.”
You can watch a short video about the High Water Line project here:
(Can’t see the video in your email? Click here to watch the film on the Gwarlingo website).
There are many organizations offering assistance to those impacted by Sandy. For a detailed list of resources for artists and arts organizations affected by the storm, visit ARTINFO.com.
For more information about Eve S. Mosher’s work, you can visit her website. The High Water Line site also has a useful page of resources. The Canary Project, a non-profit that produces art and media that deepen public understanding of human-induced climate change and energize commitment to solutions, was one of the supporters of the High Water Line project.
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