Friday July 22, 2011
By Don Heppner
Heather van Wolf, a Pound Ridge resident, activist and artist is using her art as a weapon to fight hydrofracking in New York State.
Hydraulic fracturing, often called fracking, is a process used to mine gases that lie between layers of shale. The method employs fracturing of the rock layers using liquid loaded with chemicals to help separate layers and extract gas.
Ms. Wolf participated in a Sierra Club-sponsored event last month that featured the work of many artists, wine and music. Ms. Wolf exhibited several drawings and an installation that grabbed the attention of all of the more than 100 people who attended the event in Manhattan.
Ms. Wolf said that the fracking sculpture she made is technically called an art installation, which isi a mixed-media sculpture blending conceptual art and a scientific technical illustration.
The drawing on the plexiglass at the top of the installation is done in the classical method of etching with a diamond tipped needle. Bubbles were drawn around the helical chemical compounds, which illustrate what is released in the air and water when fracking occurs.
The pools beneath the steel frame represent the earth pre-fracking to the right and post- fracking to the left, and even contained a live goldfish in the first bowl. The second bowl represents the chemicals infused into the water, and the third bowl gives a picture of the water that has gone through the fracking process.
"The fish represents nature as it is impacted by our efforts in gas drilling," ms. Wolf said. "I want people to want to protect and nurture the fish, and the gallerygoers were interested in making sure the fish wasn't hurt."
Her installation is topically specific and was designed for the Sierra Club event. A number of institutions focusing on installation art were created from the 1980's and onward, suggesting the need for installation to be seen as a separate discipline.
Frank Morris, the National Sierra Club board member who invited Ms. Wolf to participate in the event, called her work "beautiful" and "effective."
"I met Heather two years ago at a Sierra Club meeting, where she does lots of good works opposing expansion of the airport at Westchester," Mr Morris said. "I was very impressed by her poise and intelligence, and then I met her again through Facebook."
Ms. Wolf had made some online posts about gas fracking that impressed Mr. Morris, and he later discovered that she was an "accomplished" artist.
He has combined art and wine to raise funds before, and he said they have all been successful and that he thought Ms. Wolf would make a great contribution to the show.
The New York State chapter of the Sierra Club Officially opposes fracking, but the national organization embraces gas as a transition fuel becuase it's cleaner burning than crude. So there is no official position against fracking from the National Sierra Club, but local state chapters will continue to work to protect natural resources from the results of fracking.
Well over 100 people attended the event at 28 East 35th Street to see artists take on the idea of gas drilling in New York State.
"I have been involved in the oil issue for about 20 years," Mr. Morris said.
"The fracking issue came to light in 2005, and my involvement came a few years later."
He said that oil companies created fracking technoloigy and "they loaned it to their little brother, the gas companies."
To allow fracking would present a dangerous situation for New York State, according to Mr. Morris. "My information is that Governor Cuomo has opened the fracking process in 85 percent of New York State," he said. "We don't have shale in 85 percent of the state, but we have a lot of shale."
Mr. Cuomo made a stab at protecting the New York City and Syracuse water supplies, since both water supplies are unfiltered and if fracking chemicals got into a reservoir system, the water supply would become polluted, but Mr. Morris said that is not enough.
"Does the governor think that filtered water systems will be protected from irradiated frack foods?" Mr. Morris asked. "Irradiated waters are being released into the watersed. I don't think the people of New York State want that. I don't know how they are going to manage the radiation that comes from the fracking process."
He said that people often mistakenly say, "The solution to pollution is dilution."
Mr. Morris said that the best chance to stop fracking comes from New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who is suing the federal government if it does not commit to conducting an environmental review before the regulations authorizing gas drilling are finalized. Mr. Schneiderman would take legal action to compel such a study.
"Schneiderman's lawsuit is important," Mr Morris said. "He is making demands, so if I have an optimism, it is coming out of Schneiderman's office."
The art show, dubbed "No Fracking Way," was declared a booming success by organizers and participants.
"We made enough money to make it worthwhile to host another show," Mr Morris said. "I like the art/wine environment as outreach, and we can use the money received to fund our lawsuits and advocacy."
Mr. Morris is working with Ms. Wolf to bring a similar wine and art show to the Northern Westchester area soon.