Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship
Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
Abstract: In July of 2024, Jenna North, an interdisciplinary eco-artist, educator, community organizer, and curator, will embark on a research residency that will involve learning and collaborating with scientists working with critical environmental data, an effort that will culminate in a coastal wetland’s transmutation of an ongoing projectNorth calls it “Submersive Gardening”. “Blue carbon” pointed North to the Smithsonian. Environmental Research Center and the Global Change Research Wetland. Dr. Patrick Megonigal, who would be her advisor for the program, recommended she apply for SARF. Much of the process - meetings with scientists, familiarization with SERC and the Wetlands, and the physical creation, will be documented and included in a full feature documentary called “Well Wendy Well.” Collaborating extensively with scientists and academic institutions, North's current research probes the depths of carbon and methane sequestration and its far-reaching implications for sea level rise, particularly related to island ecosystems. Her inquisitive lens extends to the intricate interplay between sea level rise and methane levels in global forests and the unique characteristics of wetlands trees compared to their mangrove counterparts.
Proposal- Based in Washington, DC, the work of Jenna North is a dynamic amalgamation of artistry, education, and activism, all centered around confronting the ever-growing climate crisis, particularly the challenge of sea level rise due to carbon and methane emissions. While collaborating with the scientists at SERC during the fellowship period, North will connect with communities in the flood-prone regions of Washington D.C. and the Chesapeake Bay, forging connections between art, science, and society. Concurrently, North is creating a documentary featuring her alter ego, Wendy Well, a post-apocalyptic interior decorator brought on by climate anxiety. The film also addresses North’s research in the Maldives, sponsored by the National Art Gallery in Male’, and the US Art and Embassies. In her painted installation video art you may see ghost islands flying around in the filth of methane from fracking’s catastrophic effects on the climate.
Continuing her work about threatened island nations, North developed a project called “Submersive Gardening”, designed (only in prototype form) as a contained system of aquaponics living sculpture to be installed and floated in ponds. For this residency, she plans to experiment with how the miniature islands could grow a variety of native marsh grasses, ideally fitting into a self-sustaining coastal wetlands ecosystem. At SERC, with Patrick Megonigal as her primary advisor, North would also engage with some of his collaborators, such as Roy Rich (for sensor technology guidance), James Holmquist (wetland carbon storage), Genevieve Noyce (Methane emissions from plants), and Steve Canty (blue carbon, mangroves, reefs), among others. The islands will be connected to a sensor that will pull them underwater. The living sculpture can be used as a scientific substrate in a collaborative experiment.
Diversity is a vibrant thread woven through North's work as an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and community organizer. Throughout her various projects, she celebrates the kaleidoscope of perspectives, cultures, and backgrounds that shape our world, particularly within the context of the climate crisis and its far-reaching repercussions. Through her art, this commitment to diversity extends beyond the canvas and into her collaborations with scientists, academic institutions, and local communities. North firmly believes that tackling the multifaceted challenges posed by the climate crisis necessitates amplifying the voices of marginalized communities. Furthermore, harking on her Native American ancestry, North wants to elevate indigenous knowledge and harness the sustainable practices of native peoples. The National Park Service has its first-ever tribal Director who is hopeful that native partnerships will help solve conservation challenges of climate change. North plans to reach out to former Smithsonian Historian, Gabrielle Tayac, Ph.D., a member of the Piscataway Nation of Maryland, who curated “The Return to a Native Place: Algonquian Peoples of the Chesapeake”, on view at the National Museum For the American Indian. North's passion for advocating for vulnerable communities is particularly evident in her focus on the Maldives and other low-lying island nations facing the existential threat of rising seas. She is deeply committed to shedding light on the stark social, economic, and political disparities these communities endure. As an artist and community organizer, North leveraged her platform to raise awareness, advocating for equitable solutions such as "Submersive Gardening," and with this fellowship and the expertise of the scientists at SERC, her vision can materialize into the physical, allowing for greater public engagement within the Washington, D.C. area communities and the Chesapeake Bay region. She plans to foster inclusive dialogues that embrace diverse perspectives alongside completing her over-a-decade-long project, the "Well Wendy Well" documentary.
Lastly, people who know North feel comfortable expressing when they’re feeling anxious about the future. Parents are often tongue-tied when their children press with the hard questions about climate change. At least, this is her experience as a mother of a four-year-old who wants to know everything about the earth's history and its epochs. Climate anxiety is a theme throughout the “Well Wendy Well” film, and recently North started a group called “DC Anthropocene”. The group is open to anyone but targets parents, teachers, or caregivers of children. In early 2024 it will start meeting out of North’s art studio. It will be a creative space to share stories, insights, events, and collaborations while supporting each other in raising good keepers of the earth, and North hopes to involve participants in “submersive gardening” or other citizen science opportunities at SERC.
Timeline (Rough, does not include time spent before the fellowship officially begins)
Month 1: Research and Planning
Week 1 to 2: Familiarization with SERC and the Wetlands Project. Meetings with the team, interviews, ordering of any materials. Safety training, paperwork, etc..
Visit an island in the Chesapeake Bay.
Week 3 to 4: Study wetland methane emissions, including preliminary data analysis from SERC. Volunteer to assist Scientists in areas to learn more about related practice. Work with plants and constructing islands. Visit an island in the
Month 2: Implementation and Outreach
Week 1 to 2: Revise project proposal with research questions and methodologies. Visit an island in the Chesapeake Bay.
Week 3 to 4: Implement experiments with "Submersive Gardening" miniature islands while simultaneously collecting baseline data on methane emissions in
Week 5 to 6: Analyze preliminary data to understand the relationship between sea level rise and methane emissions (natural gas, soil, plants, trees)
Week 6: Continue creating, learning, upkeep, and outreach.
Week 7: Using Conservation volunteers, organize a "work in progress" event open to the community, where the project findings are shared as an opportunity to engage with locals—artists, ecologists, and designers in the greater Washington D.C. and Chesapeake Bay area. Involve “DC Anthropocene”
Week 8: Final project delivered, including creating art installations or exhibitions based on findings and community collaboration.
Artist Statement- My work toggles between functional eco-art, painting, photography, multimedia installation, and performance as my fracking-obsessed Post-Apocalyptic Interior Decorator alter ego, Wendy Well, and a Senator’s wife from Kansas, Joan Dare. Both alter egos will be contextualized in separate feature films. Wendy and Joan serve many purposes, and one is an escape from painting (yet I’m drawn to it like an aquaphiliac is to the sea). Prior to the emergence of the alter egos, painting and planning a large-scale eco-art project was the primary outlet for dealing with my severe climate change anxieties. However, my physical health has declined, and I live with chronic, debilitating pain that has made painting a punishing pursuit. Being Wendy can be performance art when I’m truly in the driver’s seat. However, in the early years of her incarnation, and still when I’m in dark states, she’s an alter ego with a mind/spirit that overpowers my will. It’s now been twelve years since she took possession of me in the rust belt city of Utica, NY, where she could occupy an abandoned factory, a historic Rococo theater, overturn my curatorial projects, and hop on barges on the Erie Canal. Joan on the other hand, allowed me to be lighthearted and though she appalls me in some ways, I enjoy playing her!
Read more about Jenna North
Submersive Gardening 2.0 - I am a curious, motivated, and highly creative artist, and SARF program is a timely opportunity not only for this project but for my career as an artist. I’ve been struggling with chronic pain for several years and am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel with some upcoming procedures and surgery. The timing of begining in July of 2024 is perfect and I feel confident that I can achieve the goals of this project within the timeframe of the fellowship. In the summer of 2016 I completed an artist residency at the internationally acclaimed AIR program called Sculpture Space. During these four months, I did a joint residency with the Utica Children’s museum. While at the museum I worked with youth volunteers and led multiple art and ecology workshops for the general public. Through these two joint residencies, I successfully created a prototype for “Submersive gardening”. The Prototype was funded in part by a New York State Council of the Arts grant. With the limited budget allowance, I was able to accomplish two prototypes that function as standalone pieces as well as a vessel on which to experiment. The aspects of the prototype that I was unable to achieve were mostly in technology and funding that was not readily available to me at the time.
My solid foundation in art with nearly 20 years of experience teaching in academia, art centers, museums, and the outdoors, forged with an active engagement in my professional practice makes me an ideal candidate to design and facilitate workshops that revolve around the technical, conceptual and creative aspects of this project.
“Throughout the project you constantly feel like you are in safe hands.”
Client of the Danclas project