Boats by Lora Martens

One of the major ideas of my project was a boat, which represented two ideas. One was the plight of the refugees forced to flee persecution in packed boats on an unsafe sea. The other was the idea of the planet as a boat, and humanity forced to sit and figure out how to nagivate this time of climate change together. 

Boat construction sketch

Boat construction sketch

Using wood collected from the transfer station, I mocked up a few ways to construction a boat, which would serve as a planter in the installation. The boat/planter holds special native plants which will bloom with color in the spring. Around the boat is planted native bunch grasses, which represent the sea.

Thanks for another work day of amazing people, this boat was built, and filled with soil and planted in one day. If this project is any indication of what working together can do....then if we work together to change the world we live in, there isn't anything we can't do. Cheesy, I know...but the project is DONE!!!

Testing the walls by Lora Martens

The construction phase of this project was a process of trial and error for me. Each error taught me about a dozen lessons so by the end of this project I will have learned about 1 gazillion lessons about physically building something of value and made about 5 gazillion mistakes, which I had to redo. 

One of the most talented people I know, Vera Gates from Arterra Landscape Architects, always tells us that the project you start is never the same project you finish. Our flexibility and a bit of humbleness throughout the process can allow a project's unexpected challenges to result in unexpected delights.  

First the materials I originally thought would look well in the walls didn't. First I wanted to fill the walls with wood that I burned, to signify (not subtly) the California forest fires of 2015. Then, after that was rejected for to safety reasons, I thought I could do some color and plastic toys of various colors. Plastics ended up looking bad, so I rethought the idea of wood again. 

I started collecting organic materials, mostly wood from the dump, raw steel, wood toys, glass, and some found pinecones from the garden itself. These items seemed to represent a idea in tandem with the raw grief I was feeling about the forest fires. The lumber represented a connection with the forest, and reminded me how connected we are to the land even as we build cities to remove ourselves from it.  


original sketch....

original sketch....

Art and Climate Change by Lora Martens

This week 60 participants will gather together at the Salzburg Global Seminar to talk about art and sustainability. While this does seem like a huge subject, I am interested to see what comes out of these discussions. 

This conference has a six themes and the one that particularly interested me was the one titled  "Artists Catalyzing Change" summarized below. 

"Artists Catalyzing Change
What remarkable arts-based projects around sustainability have startled and moved people and broken through barriers to inspire lasting change? What can be learned from these groundbreaking stories and ideas, and is it possible to transfer these insights to other contexts, replicate them and/or take them to scale?  Can we identify best practices and pre-conditions for success?"

Through my research in the subject of art and climate change I have been most inspired by projects that started as art projects with a sustainability focus and became public policy as well as  art projects that have morphed into hard core research studies.

I recently learned of the infamous Harrison Studio, and their 50 year long project in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the Segehen Watershed. The husband and wife artist team have partnered with UC Berkeley and the Washoe tribe to move a variety of native plants from a lower location to 5 different plots, each 165 meters higher than the next, and study their responses. The hope is that these seedlings become resilient to the warming effect of climate change.  

The Segehen Watershed project is part of Harrison Studio's epic latest collection of work called "The Force Majeure", which is both a reflection on their lifetime of work and a reflection on the state of affairs that is climate change today. They have started a Center for the Study of the Force Majeure at UC Santa Cruz.

From the Harrison Studio website: "The Center, in its Statement of Purpose, defines the Force Majeure as the pressure of global warming on all planetary systems, in collaboration with the industrial processes whose negative effect on the environment has perhaps co-equally accelerated over the past 100 years. The Center believes that we must adapt ourselves to a very different world and that is the basis of our research."

Rock on climate change artists! 

Collecting material from the waste stream of San Francisco by Lora Martens

The most exciting part of Recology's Gardener in Residence program is the opportunity to collect out of the public disposal section of the dump (or technically the transfer station). The transfer station accepts waste 7 days a week 363 days a year. 

I have been a collector in the dump for a only a few hours a week for only a couple of weeks but I have seen people throw away enough construction debris to build a house, enough furniture to fill it and enough household detritus to clutter it up about 100 times over.


This is a small pile.

This is a small pile.

This is a big pile

This is a big pile

The warehouse which accepts the public waste  is where items which were designed, manufactured, distributed, displayed, chosen, purchased, used, kept, outgrown, packed and disposed end up in this space where all of this, collectively, become a formless river of waste.  



The transfer station is a loud, noisy, chaotic but orderly place with employees moving and sorting the river of waste, and with new people constantly coming in to add their treasures to it. The river of waste ebbs and flows, it grows and shrinks, it has a rhythm and a personality and every person I have met who work within this flow has been in awe of it. 

Including myself. 

It has been a privilege to be able to collect items for my project from the vast stream of the disposed. Trash is a very raw and honest medium and being at the dump, reaching into that river of waste and plucking out something that used to be connected to another person's life....It's like being able to see a bit of the collective soul of San Francisco. Every car that pulls up is a hundred stories and what they leave behind is a hundred more. I could spend my whole life in the dump doing art and never run out of inspiration. 


The only time I take my camera out is when it's calm like this. 

The only time I take my camera out is when it's calm like this. 

Do you see trash, or do you see art supplies?

Do you see trash, or do you see art supplies?

The internet of things has become the trashpile of things...

The internet of things has become the trashpile of things...

There are 13 bays in the transfer station for people to dispose in. 

There are 13 bays in the transfer station for people to dispose in. 

At Sea: Climate Change is our responsibility by Lora Martens

The research portion of my project has been the most rewarding experience I have had in a while. With this residency, I had a goal, to dedicate some time to learning about climate change, and a platform which which to contribute to the discussion in whatever way I chose. 

i started my research in the late summer of 2015. As I read articles and books, I also had one eye on the news. This summer in California, we had a record number of wildfires, due to the drought engulfing this state.

Photo Credit: CALFire.

These fires were particularly brutal this summer. Many homes were burned, including a beloved Napa Valley retreat center, Harbin Hot Springs, which I had been to many times and which housed dozens of people full time. Mark Morford, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about Harbin's destruction, "Where do you go for peaceful refuge from the storm, when the storm annihilates all peaceful refuge?" I

These fires were not part of a normally functioning ecosystem. Fires in the arid grassland are low, frequent and not as hot as these wildfires. These wildfires are symptoms of a land that is too hot and too dry and a ecological system that is suffering. This summer felt like our world in California was collapsing on itself. 

The drought was the main cause of the fires, but the drought is a symptom of changing global weather patterns. In California, we are required to restrict water use in our homes and landscape, which is a great thing. Water is a previous commodity in the west and it should be used with care. But I felt this summer that the talk of low flush toilets and replacing lawns with native plants was a red herring. The real issue is climate change, and no one seems to be talking about it. 

The second news item of the summer was across the Atlantic Ocean in the Middle East and Europe. Over the last 4 years hundreds of thousands of refugees have been fleeing the conflicts in Syria, joining the stream of refugees from Iraq and Northern Africa.



Even though this has been the largest diaspora since World War II, this news barely made the mainstream news in the US, until this summer. I fear that this is our new normal, as resources dry up and ecologies change, increased conflicts are on the horizon well as coming refugee crisis of people forced to move for ecological reasons as a result of climate change. The UN Refugee Agency calls this future "The Storm Ahead" and has been restructuring its focus to adapt to this coming crisis. 

I felt like I want to talk about climate change all the time. I feel like we all should talk about climate change al the time. Its such a huge issue, no one wants to talk about it. When I sat down to sketch out ideas for the garden plot, I felt like the issues i wanted to talk about were too big for art at first. I felt like art was useless next to this huge problem. Then I realized that big solutions aren't the things that will improve our world. Climate change needs to be everyone's responsibility. It calls for a global awakening and it calls for individual accountability. It calls for people to value others over themselves and awareness over consumption, these are things that will solve climate change and will make us all healthier people. It is an opportunity for everyone to find their voice, including myself. 

I thought of the refugees in the boats and the photos of these people as they landed in Europe. These strangers, forced to share a dangerous wooden ship in a gamble for a better life is a metaphor for our global community. We are in a boat, sealed into this planet by a thickening atmosphere, floating in an infinite void. We sit here, and what are we doing? Staring out at sea? Paddling? Fishing? Pushing each other over the edge? Singing sea shanties? 

My garden plot was a sea, and my idea was that the visitor was to have an immersive experience in a space that invited them to reflect on the environment around them. There would be a boat, occupied by us, floating on a sea, with objects lifting out of the sea to represent the potential destruction of our own lives due to climate change. 

Recology's Sculpture Garden by Lora Martens

A collection of images of existing sculptures in the garden at the San Francisco transfer station. All sculptures are made from discarded objects. 

Photo Credit: Tom Martens.  

Tackling Big Ideas With Land Art by Lora Martens

One of the main requests that Recology wanted from the GIR project was to to showcase drought tolerant plants. California is in the middle of a historic drought, and many homeowners are voluntarily, or required, to plant drought tolerant plants in their yards. Lawn is being replaced in city parks in San Francisco with no mow drought tolerant grasses. These landscapes, signify a permanent shift in the way potable water is used in our cities; from now on water use will always be examined when selecting plants. I am happy to be a part of educating the public to help them use less water outdoors, this is a very positive outcome of the drought. 

It didn't feel like enough for me. I've always been interested in the big picture of things. The systems behind the systems. In my work as a landscape architect, I've been exploring the ways in which to show and articulate the ways the built landscape is so much larger and powerful than plant selection and retaining wall footings. The landscape is everything, its the beginning and the end and everything in between. The drought is a symptom, not the main issue. The main issue is climate change, caused by human pollution and the framework of our entire society, which consumes with abandon. 

As I stared at the 20'x20' plot I selected I felt like this space was too small to say anything meaningful about climate change. Academics write books about climate change, Al Gore makes feature length documentaries about climate change. In theory, I believe that this problem won't be solved until everyone does something, no matter how small, within the context of our own lives. We can't wait for the people in power to make the right decisions for us, because it's been 20 years of talk and no action on that front. But I was surprised how paralyzed I felt getting started, how could one little art project ever possibly have anything meaningful to say in the context of such a huge complicated issue?

So I did what I do when I don't understand something. I got out my journal and got on the internet to see where it would lead me. 

Gardener In Residence by Lora Martens

What is a Gardener in Residence? 

The task of being "in residence" is an opportunity given by a supporting organization to individuals so they can have a space away from their normal lives and routines to explore creative ideas in a free and open environment. 

Traditionally, these programs have been "Artist in Residence" programs. The idea is simple, provide a studio space, financial support and sometimes housing and meals for artists, who use this time to freely create and think. Usually at the end of the residency there will be a show of the work created during this period.  A more nuanced description of the "artist in residence" can be found here.

The Yaddo Mansion, home of one of the oldest and most prestigious Artist in Residence programs in the US.

A Gardener in Residence is a version of this idea, which has been becoming more popular lately, as the built environment is seen more as a place of great creativity for human intervention. I would draw a connection between the rise of thinking creatively about landscape and the rethinking of the American lawn and the localization of food production. Both of these movements are rethinking the paradigm of small scale land use in our urban environments. And creative minded growers are stepping to the plate to replace old, wasteful land systems with an ever expanding catalog of ideas.  

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas. Ant Farm Collective. 

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas. Ant Farm Collective. 

Andy Goldsworthy installing an in-site art piece. 

Andy Goldsworthy installing an in-site art piece. 

 I see a great benefit to many organizations supporting the idea of a Gardner in Residence. For example, here are 5 organizations I think would benefit from hosting a Gardener in Residence program:

Botanical Gardens

College Campuses

Small Scale Farms

Cities - Manchester, England had one!

National Parks - The National Park Service has an Artist in Residence program, wouldn't it be great to see this expanded to the built environment?





Primary Design Statement by Lora Martens

The following essay is the Design Statement, from my application to the GIR program:


Landscape as an opportunity

Landscape as a tool

Landscape as a system

 My work in landscape has been system based, many of the projects I have designed strive to use the land to its full potential as ecological infrastructure as well as a place of beauty. This involves research into the various systems of a site, at scales from regional to the microbes in the soil as well as integrate awareness of cultural networks, in order to design landscapes that function as catalysts for human thought as well as enhance a site’s ecological connections. 

In this residency I would love to explore the theme of connection to place and larger issues such as the drought, climate change and the paradigm shifts that are needed to address these issues, in the Sculpture Garden as Gardener in Residence At Recology.

The sculpture garden is physically unique due to its location on a hill in between two valleys, granting visitors panoramic views as well as treating visitors to the constant presence of the coastal winds. I would like to install a garden that uses native grasses and perennials to expose the invisible force of the wind and invite visitors to linger in the space and reflect on other invisible systems working all around them, including the system of water that is integral to our very existence in this arid area.  

It is not often in the career of a landscape designer that we get to have a space of our very own, to explore the ideas that we find the most powerful. It would be an incredible opportunity to partner with Recology as the next Gardener in Residence at Recology San Francisco.