Category: climate justice

combining elements 1


Ben washing up before supper at the winter hogan on Cumming’s Mesa. May 1995. (Installation at Gray Mountain, AZ with accompanying sound loop by Ken Ogawa.)

Anyone who has spent time in the southwest knows how precious a resource water is. A Washington Post headline in February of this year announced “Southwest drought is the most extreme in 1200 years” and “The past 22 years rank as the driest period since at least 800 A.D.” The Guardian in November 2021 noted that “Lake Powell reaches lowest level since construction of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963.” Sadly, the status of Lake Mead is as dismal.

Complicating the situation in this region is the historical exclusion of Native people from water rights treaties. Native people weren’t considered U.S. citizens when the Colorado River Compact was signed in 1922 dividing Colorado River water amongst 7 southwestern states and Mexico. (Native people became citizens with the right to vote in 1924 with the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act.) Colorado Public Radio noted December 20, 2021… “Tribes were excluded from this agreement and had no direct say in how the water they relied on for millennia was divided – a racial injustice tribal leaders say continues to hurt their members.” Yet, Native households are 19 times more likely to lack piped water services than white households, according to a report from the Water & Tribes Initiative. The data also show that Native households are more likely to lack piped water services than any other racial group. Leaders of tribes who depend on the Colorado River say the century-old agreement on managing a resource vital to 40 million people across the West is a major factor fueling these and other water inequalities.”

There are 30 federally recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Twenty two of these tribes have recognized rights to use 3.2 million-acre feet (maf) of Colorado River system water annually, or approximately 22 to 26 percent of the Basin’s average annual water supply. In addition, 12 of the tribes have unresolved water rights claims, which will likely increase the overall volume of tribal water rights in the Basin.

Wanting to better understand water issues and the legacy of uranium mining more my long time friend and collaborator for this project, Ken Ogawa, and I decided to make a series of sight and sound installations that speak to nuclear colonization and water issues on the Colorado Plateau. We talked with a local scientist and activists working at the grassroots level to bring potable water to homes on the Navajo nation where approximately 25% of homes lack running water. We also talked with activists working to clean up the over 500 abandoned uranium mine sites on the Navajo lands and to prevent future uranium mining and hauling of ore on the Navajo nation.

One of the people we spoke with was Diné geoscientist Dr. Tommy Rock who is completing postdoctoral work at Princeton University where he is studying the impact of oil and natural gas drilling and uranium extraction on local water sources. Tommy, the first in his family to attend college, is focusing his work on 3 communities on the Navajo nation (Sanders, AZ, Sand Springs, AZ and Monument Valley, UT), where he is developing a water filtration system that he can export to other Native communities. His work has tracked groundwater contamination as far as 80 miles from the site of a uranium mill spill at Church Rock in 1979. He is using this information to assure that available water is safe for human consumption. Tommy’s activism is empowering communities to hold corporations and the Federal Government responsible for uranium contamination and is truly inspiring.

Whereas Tommy’s approach to water filtration occurs at water sources, his colleague, Dr. Karletta Chief, Diné hydrologist at Arizona State University uses a different approach to providing potable water to Native communities. She’s developed a nano filtration system to be used in homes.

Ken writes “Water: About the sound
Shortly following my first arrival on the Navajo Reservation in 1986, I was told the story of how
the Navajo came to the world in which we all now live. They lived first below the surface of the
Earth until a great flood drove them to ascend to the present world through a reed into the
fourth or “Glittering World”. This is the journey I try to build in the audio loop for the “Water”
site. The source for nearly all the audio was extracted from video I made 30 years ago while on
a hike with Chip Thomas into Navajo Canyon, near the base of Navajo Mountain. I did add
some sounds of rain and thunder from more recent storms, but only to round out the narrative
I had built in my head. This loop lasts a little over 13 minutes.”

Jett in the rain. (Text painted by Daniel Josley with definitions from my co-worker who passed just before she shared this information with me, Rena Yazzie. The mural is dedicated to Rena.)

We asked Tommy to identify grassroots organizations on and around the Navajo nation involved in providing potable water to communities. He gave a shout out to the following groups:

  1. Dig Deep – Navajo Water Project
  2. Sixth World Solutions
  3. Black Mesa Water Coalition
  4. Diné Care
  5. Tó Nizhóní Ání (Sacred Water Speaks)


Kee John mining uranium ore in the early 1960s before his untimely death from a uranium related cancer in 2000. Installation at the old Waunta Trading Post with accompanying sound loops by Ken Ogawa.
What is your job?
Elegy/Thousands of Lives

Ken writes of these sound installations… “There are 2 audio loops at the ‘Uranium” site. The first begins with a recording of Geiger counter clicks which are modified electronically and combined with narration extracted from vintage civil defense and uranium mining films. This narration asks the question “What is your job?”, I hope prompting the listener to consider how they might engage with the bigger questions regarding the legacy of nuclear colonization.”

“The second loop is constructed from Geiger counter recordings distorted to an even greater
degree, combined with other sources, including the bell from my Japanese grandmother’s
Butsudan (home altar). In Buddhism, the bell’s sound is said to be calming and to induce a
suitable atmosphere for meditation. These bells are often used as a call to prayer. The ring of the
bell can represent the heavenly enlightened voice of the Buddha teaching the dharma and can
also be used as a call for protection and as a way to ward off evil spirits. I hope that this
represents a call to remember those that are lost and left suffering from the legacy of
irresponsible management of uranium mining. There are 2 loops, totaling nearly 20 minutes”

Moren Binale at home with his wife, Julia. Moren’s respiratory illness resulted from years spent in the 1990s remediating uranium mill sites on and around the Navajo nation.

July 16, 1945 was an ominous day in the history of humankind and the planet as the US Army’s Manhattan Project detonated Trinity, the first atomic bomb, in Jornada del Muerto, NM.  (“Jornada del Muerto” fittingly translates as “Journey of the Dead Man” or “Working Day of the Dead.”)  July 16 is also the day of one of the worst nuclear accidents in US history with the Church Rock, NM uranium tailings spill in 1979 on the Navajo nation (occurring 5 months after the nuclear reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island).

An earthen dam holding uranium tailings and other toxic waste ruptured releasing 1,100 tons of uranium waste and 94 million gallons of radioactive water into the Rio Puerco and through Navajo lands. Sheep in the wash keeled over and died as did crops along the riverbank. According to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report the levels of radioactivity in the Rio Puerco near the breached dam were 7000 times that of what is allowed in drinking water.

In an effort to end WWII and to beat the Soviets in developing a hydrogen bomb uranium mining under the Manhattan Project began on Navajo and Lakota lands in 1944.  Two years later management of the program was transferred to the US Atomic Energy Commission. The Navajo nation provided the bulk of the country’s uranium ore for our nuclear arsenal until uranium prices dropped in the mid 80s and is largely responsible for our winning the Cold War.

However, environmental regulation for mining the ore was nonexistent in the period prior to the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. During this time uranium mining endangered thousands of Navajo workers in addition to producing contamination that persists in adversely affecting air + water quality and contaminating Navajo lands with over 500 abandoned, unsealed former mine sites.

Private companies hired thousands of Navajo men to work the uranium mines and disregarded recommendations to protect miners and mill workers.   In 1950 the U.S. Public Health Service began a human testing experiment on Navajo miners without their informed consent during the federal government’s study of the long-term health effects from radiation poisoning. (This study followed the same violation of human rights protocol as the US Public Health Service study on the long-term effects of syphilis on humans by experimenting on non-consenting African American men in what is known as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment from 1932 – 1972.)

In May 1952 the Public Health Service and the Colorado Health Department publish a paper called “An interim Report of a Health Study of the Uranium Mines and Mills.

The report noted that levels of radioactive radon gas and radon particles (known as “radon daughters”), were so high in reservation mines that they recommended wetting down rocks while drilling to reduce dust which the miners breathed; giving respirators to the workers; mandating daily showers after a work shift, frequent changes of clothing, loading rocks into wagons immediately after being chipped from the wall to decrease time for radon to escape and for miners to receive pre-employment physicals. Sadly, the recommendations were ignored.

By 1960 the Public Health Service definitely declared that uranium miners faced an elevated risk of pulmonary cancer. However, it wasn’t until June 10, 1967 that the Secretary of Labor issued a regulation declaring that “…no uranium miner could be exposed to radon levels that would induce a higher risk of cancer than that faced by the general population.” By this time, it was too late. In the 15 years after the uranium boom the cancer death rate among the Diné doubled from the early 1970s to the late 1990s while the overall U.S. cancer death rate declined during this same interval.

Moren at the former Mexican Hat uranium and copper mill site where he worked in the 1990s to remediate it as a superfund site near his home in Halchita, Utah.

Native led organizations addressing nuclear colonialism:

  1. Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM)
  2. Haul No!
  3. Indigenous Environmental Network

Location of sites:

About the title – “combining elements 1”

These are the first 2 of 5 planned sight and sound collaborations drawing attention to the effects of climate change and the legacy of environmental mismanagement in the western United States.

In Traditional Chinese Philosophy, five elements (sometimes referred to as ‘phases’ or ‘agents’) provides a conceptual scheme used to describe the interactions and relationships between all things.

Five Element Theory asserts that the world changes according to the five elements generating or overcoming relationships.  Generating or overcoming are the complementary processes by which systems are harmonized and balance is maintained. 

It is our hope that having completed pieces representing ‘water’ and ‘metal’ we will continue with ‘wood’, ‘earth’, and ‘fire’.

Thank you to Stephen Stapleton of Culturunners, Daniel Josley, the late Rena Yazzie and Dr. Tommy Rock for helping to make this project possible.

event horizon

I was invited to participate in the 2017 Joshua Treenial.  The theme this year was event horizon.  I ventured to Joshua Tree in January to find a potential location for an installation and to obtain source photos.

Thanks to local resident and artist Diane Best I was able to find an abandoned house on the property of Blake Simpson.  Per Blake the house hadn’t been occupied for 10 years or more.   Upon completion of the installation Blake was moved to use the space for community art happenings.  My artist statement describes my thinking about this project.

In general relativity theory, an event horizon is a boundary in space-time beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer. In layman’s terms, it is defined as “the point of no return, the point at which gravitational pull becomes so great as to make escape impossible, even for light.”

My piece, “Inside out” focuses on an environmental point of no return.  Environmental scientists identify 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere as being the point of no return.  As stated on the website of the environmental organization

“…Since the beginning of human civilization, our atmosphere contained about 275 ppm of carbon dioxide. That is the planet “on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.” Beginning in the 18th century, humans began to burn coal, gas, and oil to produce energy and goods. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere began to rise, at first slowly and now more quickly. Many of the activities we do every day like turning the lights on, cooking food, or heating our homes rely on energy sources that emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. We’re taking millions of years worth of carbon, once stored beneath the earth as fossil fuels, and releasing it into the atmosphere.

Right now we’re at over 400 ppm, and we’re adding 2 ppm of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. Unless we are able to rapidly turn that around and return to below 350 ppm this century, we risk triggering tipping points and irreversible impacts that could send climate change spinning truly beyond our control.”

Wildlife biologists predict that at the current rate of temperature rise, 1/3 of all animal species are at risk of extinction by 2050 unless CO2 emissions are reduced by 30%.  For this reason, stark imagery from the Salton Sea was used to dramatize the urgency with which we need to act to limit CO2 emissions and subsequent temperature and ocean level increases.

“It would take about 30 feet of sea level rise to connect the Salton Sink to the ocean and permanently fill it again. Realistically, climatologists expect at most 2 meters (about 6.5 feet) of sea level rise by 2100. Without significant reductions to our carbon emissions and/or physical intervention to block sea level rise, the Salton Sink (as well as all of the area reaching from Imperial Valley to the Sea of Cortez) will eventually be permanently under water. (

Our pattern of carbon based energy exploitation and consumption has turned our planet upside down and inside out.  The Hopi have a word for this called “koyaanisqatsi” which means crazy life or life out of balance.

The time to act is now.

Images by Diane Best are below:

Images by Gabrielle Houeix are below:

My artist statement was included in the structure with the hopes of raising awareness and prompting people to action.

Video of the dancing joshua tree:

Brooklyn Street Art blog coverage of the Joshua Tree installation is here.


climate change and bird migration


If one were to google “…what is the impact of climate change on bird migration,” one of the first links that comes up is a page by World Migratory Bird Day 2007.    It seems this organization formed in 2007 to bring light to the issue of climate change on bird migration, had their day then dissolved.  However, they created a fact page with 5 immediate changes to migratory birds as a result of climate change.  One of the first things they identify is this…

“One of the major effects of climate change is the loss of habitats. The habitats migratory birds depend on are in danger to change and to disappear due to increasing temperatures, flooding or desertification. Coastal wetland areas that migrating birds use for nesting and foraging are an example. During their migration, birds rely on these areas to provide food and resting places. There they can refuel and repose before continuing their long journeys. Rising sea levels due to climate change cause the flooding of these habitats and they are lost for birds and other animals. Without these stop-over places, the birds have insufficient reserves to continue and have difficulties completing their journeys.”

This past winter I was invited by 516 Arts in Albuquerque to collaborate with an experimental dance troupe.  Our setting for this collaboration would be the only urban bird sanctuary in the southwest, Valle de Oro in Albuquerque.  I was invited to do an installation on the front of an old milk barn where part of a dance performance would be held.



Upon seeing the old milk storage tank I got excited about installing there as well.  I met with the dancers twice – once in April and later in June to photograph them.  I’d wanted my focus for the piece that I created to be climate change related but I wasn’t sure in what way.  Choosing from hundreds of frames of the dancers I was struck by a series of movements performed as a duet.  For me, the three images I chose from the duet are a visual metaphor of our relationship with nature.


In the first panel one questions whether the humans are defending themselves from the birds, shielding their eyes from the too bright sun in the intense heat to better see what’s overhead.  The relationship between humans and nature is uncertain and to some degree unsettling.


Panel 2 suggests that with time and observation a dialog may form.  Communication may occur.



And in panel 3 there’s resolution and synchronicity. Although it’s a simplistic view of our dynamic relationship with nature it suggests that through observation over time we develop a better understanding of our connection to nature and the need to preserve it by addressing the root causes of climate change.








Shout out to Brian Gonnella, my assistant from Pittsburgh, PA for 6 weeks.  He’s seen above capturing one of Albuquerque’s magical sunsets.

telluride mountain film festival

photo by jim hurst

I was honored to be one of 2 artists in residence for the 2016 Telluride Mountain Film Festival. As stated on Wikipedia “…Held every Memorial Day weekend since 1979, Telluride Mountainfilm is a documentary film festival that showcases nonfiction stories about environmental, cultural, climbing, political and social justice issues in Telluride, Colorado. In addition to documentaries, the festival also brings together world-class athletes, change makers and artists via interactive discussions, free community events, a gallery walk, an all-day symposium, outdoor programming and presentations. Mountainfilm aims to educate, inspire and motivate audiences.”

Huffington Post article about my contribution.

up highway 64 towards the entrance of the south rim (at thomasina’s stand)






It had been a  couple years since I last spent any time with Marley and her mom, Sina in their spot near the Little Colorado River Gorge.  I had a leftover screen print that was one of the posters used to promote the 2014 People’s Climate March (printed by Justseeds artist, Jesse Purcell).  Although Sina wasn’t there, Marley was there with a full crew.  Thanks for a fun hang!

flagstaff x la misión

Wow.  It’s been a busy couple weeks which included prepping like a big dog for the Mountain Film festival installation, going to Telluride at 9000 feet to do the installation with the occasional small piece going up in Flagstaff.  Shout out to Brooklyn Street Art who’ve scheduled to run the story of the Telluride installation tomorrow.  Good looking out Steve + Jaime.




step close

mash up in flagstaff


Talking about corn and climate change.  The text reads “The Diné (Navajo) word for sweet corn is naa dáá which is a large grain plant first domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mexico[1] about 10,000 years ago.  Beginning about 2500 BC, the crop spread through much of the Americas.[6] The region developed a trade network based on surplus and varieties of maize crops.  After European contact with the Americas in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, explorers and traders carried maize back to Europe and introduced it to other countries. Maize spread to the rest of the world because of its ability to grow in diverse climates.

And what is the future of maize and other crops in the southwest as the planet warms?  The Southwest is the hottest and driest region in the United States, where the availability of water has defined its landscapes, history of human settlement, and modern economy.  Severe and sustained drought will stress water sources, already over-utilized in many areas, forcing increasing competition among farmers, energy producers, urban dwellers, and plant and animal life for the region’s most precious resource.  Agriculture, a mainstay of the regional and national economies, faces uncertainty and change. The Southwest produces more than half of the nation’s high-value specialty crops, including certain vegetables, fruits, and nuts. The severity of future impacts will depend upon the complex interaction of pests, water supply, reduced chilling periods, and more rapid changes in the seasonal timing of crop development due to projected warming and extreme events.”

me installing jamison

jamison 2

margeaux bestard

Jamison + his dog at the Boiler Room Studio in Flagstaff

klee + princess in the mission by (aniduhh)


Klee + Princess in the Mission, San Francisco outside Galería de la Raza coinciding with their “For the People” show.  The full backstory on this piece “What we do to the mountain we do to ourselves” will appear on the blog Brooklyn Street Art tomorrow.  And how can you not love Brooklyn Street Art when they love you more everyday?

free your mind…

New stickers and screen prints.



Owen, now 11, holding a sticker of himself with his brother Aidan in the background getting a snowball ready for his noggin.








stephanie i am the change (revised blue) 5 inches


jc with coal cloud (4 inches)

Individual stickers are $3.00 each or buy 2 for $5.00.  Contact me at if interested.



Stephanie rocking the screen print of her image on JR’s former house outside Tuba City.



For backstories + ordering info head over to and look for the “shop” tab.


requiem for a warming planet

improvisational duet with ice by dancer kimi victoria eisele.  (music “pathways of the mind” from meridian suite by antonio sanchez.)


goodbye to ice

Danish – Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson partnered with Danish geologist Manik Rosing to create a tangible commentary on climate change by bringing 12 blocks of glacial ice from Greenland to Paris for ArtCop 21.  The piece is titled “Ice Watch.”  By arranging the 12 pieces of ice like the numbers on a clock their melting in the temperate Parisian environment is a poignant reminder of our planet warming and the detrimental impact this will have on our fragile ecosystem.



people’s climate march commemorative screen print




in anticipation of the world climate summit (this december in paris) you can show the painted desert project some love by getting a one color, hand pulled (by the good people at ocelot print shop in detroit) commemorative screen print on 19 x 25 archival paper.  they’re a limited edition of fifty, signed, stamped + numbered for $50.  if interested, hit me at


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