The Weather Diaries: Stormy weather, robots and the will to create


With my ritual of coffee and Sunday New York Times in full swing, I texted a photograph of a playful mention of robots to my dear friend Scott McCarney, brilliant visual book artist in Rochester New York who shares my quirky sense of humor that balances precariously with the reality of life and love of all things robot.  His response resonated with a quip “I think robot and space alien themes will be big this year”, in an oblique reference to the Presidential election outcome and our collective dismay.

Teju Cole sums up my feelings beautifully in his “On Photography” column of Taryn Simon’s recent photographs about how power works. He states:

“The shock of that morning’s election result was not mine alone. I lay in bed in grief and confusion. I was not merely ‘sad’. I was derailed. All of my work suddenly seemed pointless. It was so difficult for me to organize thoughts into language that I felt as if I’d had a stroke…The return of the ability to write felt like resistance,the reclamation of an insight: Even at the worst of times, there is nothing pointless about the work we do as critics or artists.”

04mag-04onphoto-t_CA0-master1050.jpgFrom the series Paperwork and the Will of Capital by photographer Taryn Simon 2016

Simon’s photographs seemed perfectly and poignantly funerary. Her powerful use of color paired with the utmost minimalism and simplicity of the backgrounds allow us to contemplate the flowers as metaphors of both beauty and mortality in the same fraction of a second.

Cole states “Powerful men (it is usually men) meet to sign some papers. Afterward, the world is not the same. And yet few of those whole lives are altered by whatever was signed could conceivably trace their circumstances to that event. All they know – all most of us know – is that there are powerful forces in the world that shape our day to day realities. Simon’s project brings the scattered light of those forces to clear point of attention.”

I am grateful for Cole’s insistence and clarity. Getting on with it, making art that matters, that touches lives, that reveals fundamental truths; Cole reminds me to just get on with it after weeks of paralysis.  Back to work despite predictions of stormy weather.


Clouds of Uncertainty


Much like weather systems that move around the globe, the ripple effects of the events of the past couple weeks will be felt around the world.

Most of the people in my everyday world – students, friends, colleagues, family, and professions working in the arts – I’ve been stunned and saddened by the events in the last few weeks. I don’t and can’t presume to know what and how the ripple effects of the election will play out, but I can  try to understand the ever widening impact will be touched by America’s choice to undo the check and balances that have historically defined our democracy.

James R. DeLisle writes “Hurricane Katrina forever changed the lives of individuals and the way we think about natural disasters. As the recovery efforts continue – 10 years post-Katrina – so do the debates over what went wrong, what went right, and what to do about it. These debates have several dimensions. First, there is the national security issue and what we need to do to improve our hazard-response systems. Second, there is the issue of how to deal with the people and businesses whose lives have been shattered or disrupted. Third is the question of what, where, when, and how we rebuild public and private infrastructure and facilities in the devastated regions. Finally, there is the debate over the question of how much this will cost, how it will be financed, and who will bear the costs.”

What is particularly numbing is when I contemplate the ripple effects that the choices that will be made in the next 4 years will wrought.

Trying to fathom the unfathomable


Today is a very unusual post since I originally created this blog to write about my work, its environmental themes while attempting to unravel and share my creative process. But I, like most artists, consider ourselves cultural authors along with a lot of other things, and we are deeply and profoundly enmeshed in world.  I am compelled to offer this as some sort of explanation for my foray into politics.

This past weekend, my friends – Icelander Sigrun and her German husband Mathias – visited me while vacationing in the States.  They spend half their year in Iceland, 20 km from Solheimer Glacier, running Sigrun’s ancestral farm as a B&B (what is know as a farm-stay in Iceland), and the other half of the year they live in Berlin, where Mathias is an assistant principal of a special needs school. It was wonderful to see them and spend time together.

However, it seemed that no matter who we were meeting up with, or sharing a meal with, the conversation always turned to the upcoming U.S. presidential elections. Sigrun and Mathias repeatedly tried to discover an explanation for what most of the rest of Europe, if not the world, wondered: What the hell is going on in America with this election? No matter who joined the conversation over the weekend, we all admitted we were baffled and could not actually grasp how someone like Trump could emerge as a serious presidential contender and actually be taken seriously.

A horrifying echo of history emerged this morning while I was reading the New York Times Book Review’s analysis of the new book Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939 by Volker Ullrich. The reviewer, Adam Kirsch, begins by explaining that Hitler was a unremarkable loser who never made a mark on the world by his 30th birthday in 1919. Kirsch explains further: “Ever since Hitler came to power in 1933, writers have been trying to fathom him, and he is already the subject of [thousands of] major biographies. He goes on: “The goal of these books is to ‘explain’ Hitler…because even when we know all the facts, his story remains incredible, unacceptable. How could so insignificant a man have become so potent a force for evil? How could the world have allowed it to happen? And always, the unspoken fear: Could it happen again?” (my italics).

Kirsch describes Ullrich’s book as he maps “Hitler’s ruthless maneuvers to unravel the unpopular Weimar Republic, aided by the widespread despair over hyperinflation and the Great Depression, until his triumphant elevation to the chancellorship. Notably the Nazis  never won a majority of the vote in any free election. Hitler came to power because other, more respectable politicians thought they would be able to control him.” Sound familiar?

Kirsch goes on: “Once in office, Hitler quickly proved them wrong. With dizzying speed, he banned and imprisoned political opponents [think of his threat to do this to Hillary during the last debate], had his party rivals murdered, overrode the constitution and made himself the center of a cult of personality…”. Sound familiar?

More: “These moves did not dent Hitler’s popularity. On the contrary, after years of internecine ideological warfare, the German people went wild with enthusiasm for a man who claimed to be above politics.” Sound familiar?

Anyone, or any party, that thinks they can control Trump is dead wrong. If they haven’t been able to control him during the presidential campaign, what makes them think they can control him after, should he win the election?

If they think Trump will follow the script they are wrong. The six million Jews, and the tens of millions of soldiers killed in World War II, had never seen or heard a script like the one Hitler wrote, and they seemed to never quite fathom what was happening to them while the rest of the world slept. We are currently living echos of history: what is now gingerly called the Great Recession, joblessness, huge masses of people forced from homes running for their and their children’s lives displaced, societal and political upheaval; all lay the groundwork for unrest, instability, and despair in our society, creating a perfect storm that is ripe for a sociopath like Trump. We know this based upon the millions of words written to fathom a sociopath like Hitler. Trump is walking in his footsteps ready to take advantage of anyone and anything. How do we know this isn’t just “locker room banter”? His is a life long pattern of egomaniacal behavior that consistently displays a total and complete lack of conscience. Lie, cheat, and steal is his modus-operandi, and pathetically, its usually those less fortunate that he preys upon.

We still have not been able to fathom the unfathomable. Could it happen again? Never forget. Never Trump.




Another Storm is Coming…con’t


Another Storm is Coming_New York Times Oct 9, 2016

Roy Scranton, author of “Learning to Die in the Anthropocene” and “War Porn” a novel, writes in today’s New York Times Sunday Review section “Future hurricanes will actually be worse… “The City of Houston and FEMA did a climate change future… Hurricanes are going to get bigger. No question. They are fueled by the heat of the ocean, and the ocean’s warming…We see local politicians in general content with doing nothing. The do-nothing option is pretty gruesome. It gets you a storm, sooner or later, that’s going to kill thousands of people and cause at least $100 billion in damage.”

Head’s up America! This one is straight over home plate not in left field and its a zinger!…

I hardly, if ever, use sports analogies. But this review needs to be as popular and well attended as the upcoming playoffs with the Chicago Cubs, warding off a 108 year old curse. Go Cubs!

Tragically, yet another storm has come


The GOES East satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and taken Monday, Oct. 3, 2016, at 9:15 a.m. EDT, shows Hurricane Matthew about 220 miles southeast of Kingston, Jamaica. Hurricane Matthew roared across the southwestern tip of Haiti with 145 mph winds Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, uprooting trees and tearing roofs from homes in a largely rural corner of the impoverished country as the storm headed north toward Cuba and the east coast of Florida. (NOAA via AP)

Eleven years post-Katrina, I can’t help but wonder how many times we will allow these tragedies of human suffering to go on unabated? Inaction is not doing nothing, it is an active choice to do nothing. The simple fact is global warming fuels hurricanes.

Hurricane Matthew: Haiti south ‘90% destroyed’Damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in Jeremie, Haiti

Government and UN officials estimate that some 350,000 people need help and over 900 deaths and that number is rising.

Agencies collecting donations and supplies include:

The Jewish Federations of North America:

▪ Catholic Relief Services is collecting blankets, kitchen, hygiene kits, other supplies and financial donations on its website.

▪ Archdiocese of Miami’s Catholic Charities established a relief fund for people in the Caribbean affected by the hurricane. Financial donations will be designated to provide transportation, gas, food and rebuilding or repairs. Those contributions can be made at the Catholic Charities website. On the donate tab, select the box “Disaster Relief — Hurricane Matthew.”

▪ United Way and Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald have already activated Operation Helping Hands to raise money for people affected by the storm. All of the money raised through Operation Helping Hands will go directly to help people affected by Hurricane Matthew.

▪  The Greater Miami Jewish Federation has a Hurricane Matthew Relief Fund with 100 percent of the proceeds going to assist Haiti and other communities devastated by the hurricane. Donations can be made at its website.

▪ Food for the Poor in Coconut Creek, which is sending nine 40-foot containers from its Haitian warehouse to Jeremie, which took the full force of the storm, is collecting donations for Haiti relief. Call 1-800-427-9104 or visit

▪ Food Aid International is sending meals to Haiti. Donations can be made at its website.

▪ Guidelines for giving can be found at the Center for International Disaster Information website.

▪  International Medical Corps is currently in Haiti. Financial donations can be made at its website.

▪  All Hands Volunteers are heading to Haiti to help with rebuilding. Donations can be made at its website.

▪  CARE is providing clean drinking water, food and emergencies supplies such as tarps, blankets and hygiene kits. Donations can be made at its website.

President Barack Obama met with FEMA Wednesday about Hurricane Matthew and encouraged people to help those in Haiti “who didn’t have a lot to begin with and are now getting hammered by this storm.”

The Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe, or CARE, director in Haiti, Jean-Michel Vigreux, said the southern part of Haiti wa


Judy Natal Keynote Lecture with Video Premiere at the Chicago Climate Festival: Interview by Alex Nates-Perez

I’m so excited that I’ll be joining the first Chicago Climate Festival as keynote speaker and  premiere two new videos from Another Storm is Coming – Breathed on the Waters  and Storm Redux – commissioned by the Center for Energy & Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS). Hope to see you there!

Here are the details:  Judy Natal: Another Storm is Coming

  • Tuesday, October 11, 2016
  • 6:30pm – 8:30pm
  • DePaul University, Lincoln Park Campus,
  • McGowan South, 1110 W. Belden Ave., Chicago, IL  60614,  Room 108
    • Featuring renowned Chicago artist and educator Judy Natal
    • Keynote address and video screening
    • Videos: Breathed on the Waters and Storm Redux

The Chicago Climate Festival is a grass-roots initiative designed to shine a spotlight on the UN COP22 climate talks, global warming in general, local environmental justice issues, and the need for cooperation among diverse populations. The festival will also help build greater awareness of the leading role that Chicago is playing in enacting the environmental principle “Think globally, act locally.”

We invite college and university partners, Chicago schools, community groups, and local residents to develop performances, exhibitions, and educational initiatives that engage and inform the Chicago community about the profound challenges and opportunities we face as a result of climate disruption.

We see environmental justice and civic identity as ongoing processes or practices, and we are committed to cultivating the habit of social awareness and community engagement. Although we plan to use some private institutional venues and resources, most events will be open and advertised to the public in the spirit of community outreach and collaboration.

Some of our Community Partners

  • DePaul University
  • Columbia College
  • Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
  • Climate Cycle
  • Chicago 350
  • Environmental Graphiti
  • Marwen

Be sure to check out some of the other exciting events!  Here is the link to Chicago Climate Festival website:

See photos from this project Another Storm is Coming on my website

To share link of interview:

Tea with Judy Natal and a Conversation about Process, Grief, and why Science needs Art

By Alex Nates-Perez

“Acclaimed Chicago photographer Judy Natal will talk about her recent work, Another Storm is Coming, and screen two moving new videos that were commissioned by the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences at Rice University (CENHS).  Commemorating the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina she dramatizes the effects of extreme weather on residents living along the Gulf Coast.”

This is a rare opportunity to see Natal’s new work—not to be missed!

My ride pulls up to a nondescript brick building in the middle of an urban jungle. I am not sure I’ve arrived at the right location. “Studio,” she said in her email. “Meet me at my studio.” Intrigued but a little perplexed by the glass block windows, I look again at the numbers on the door. This was the right place, and I waved my Uber driver on. I took out my phone and texted, “I’m here,” and the door opened to reveal a smiling woman with piercing eyes and a warm disposition.

Walking into her studio is walking into Judy Natal’s living room. Right away I am greeted with a big smile and a cool refreshment. A futon is open for lounging. Her work, finished and pending, is hung neatly on the walls. Stacks of books line shelves and the room is full of assorted coffee tables and desks overflowing with ideas and collections from her travels.

Natal is known for her innovative images dealing with environmental degradation and climate change. My first question, after we sit down at her desk, fan blowing while we sip our tea, is this: “Our focus is mainly on Climate Change, but I think the lifeblood of this project is figuring out how art and science overlap and the insight that comes from an emotional and factual understanding of the complex issues. Can you talk a little bit about that and how it relates to your work?”

“So your question is, why is art a good way to express scientific facts or theories? I think there are many roles that artists play. They are storytellers, they are tricksters, they are cultural arbiters, they are aesthetic soothsayers—we do a lot of different things. For me, I think of my role as a weaver. I weave all different kinds of threads together. Many artists will take one thread and do that for a lifetime. I’m interested in connecting the dots and building connective tissue between things. My practice has always been between things. I love that space because it’s very grey and squishy. So if you think of the world, or environmental issues, or climate change as a ball, many artists will cut out one specific facet of that gigantic messy, sometimes horrible ball, and that’s what they will direct their practice toward. I see the ball as more of a globe with all these intersecting triangles that have to be connected. Those points of connection are where I think my practice is. As a connector between art and science, there are many points to build connective tissue with. That’s always been my path. I don’t see one thing. I see these layers of complexity about things, and I try really hard in my work to visually depict that, and then use my work as a point of departure to start a dialogue. There’s the work, and then there’s the work in service to having a really thoughtful conversation.”


Judy Natal was born and raised in Chicago. She says she’s “South Side educated.” “I am an incredible product of the public school system in Chicago. So I think I’ve spent my life trying to make up for this education that didn’t happen,” said Natal while searching through a pile of books on her desk. Most of them were about mirrors.

Her newest project uses mirrors to talk about weather, and is tentatively called “Eve’s Eye” after the first mirror. Natal was recently in Iceland looking for inspiration; finding none, she went up to Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin and began shooting. Some trial photos were hung on the wall with binder clips. The photos were of a pond with a circular mirror placed on the sandy bottom. The mirrors reflect whatever was above: clouds, blue sky that looks likes ice disturbed by the water’s surface, a double school of fish, ripples. “I create a library for every body of work I do. I started reading the history of the mirror, which is unbelievably fascinating. All of this research, reading and thinking, all opens up windows of possibilities.” Being South Side educated has influenced her thirst for knowledge and feeds her drive to use research when working on projects, some of which can take up to five years to complete, morphing from rough hewn original ideas into something very different . . . eloquent and elegant.

Our conversation switches to her recently completed work, “Another Storm is Coming,” a project about how the Gulf Coast has been and will continue to be affected by climate change. Natal begins talking a lot about the people she met and their influences on her work and in her life. I had to ask, “How do you process the horrors of environmental degradation? How do you wrap your head around what you make art for?”

“It’s hard, it’s really hard.” Said Natal, “There’s writing about grief and grieving that is taking place because of what is happening in relationship to climate. I think during “Another Storm is Coming,” I was pretty depressed, honestly. Not clinically depressed, but you know those feelers that I’ve developed, those antenna that I have developed as an artist, I can’t turn them off when it’s not good. It is very hard to deal with because I can’t put a filter on my eyes and not see. Trying to find a way for me to both cope, so that I’m still productive, and yet not diminish the intensity of our destruction, and the devastation that is being wrought on the land, on people, on dreams, or my emotional responses. I can’t close my eyes to that.”


We then talked about art’s role in understanding and processing the grief of environmental destruction, “Why art? I think I have a quote here that I really love. ‘Art aspires to poetry, not propaganda.’ Art is fed on emotions. Scientists, although of course they do have them, it’s not perceived as a good thing to have [emotions] in public. Emotion does not play a part in science. It’s the facts. Artists attach the emotions. I think it’s about thinking, acting, seeing, feeling and connecting those things. And there’s a huge range. Some artists are totally emotional; other art is totally devoid of emotion.”

Natal’s work expresses the emotions of climate change. She helps viewers deal with the grief of Climate Change while hoping her work educates them, and motivates viewers to make a change. “I’m not interested in making doom and gloom work. It turns people off. I’m kind of what they call a romantic realist. I believe in humanity. I believe in our ability to change. I believe that when people know, they will do the right thing. Otherwise, I would not get out of bed in the morning. I believe in education. I’ve devoted my entire adult life to teaching. I’m not teaching because I can’t be a working artist, full time, believe me. Because initially I thought, oh I’m not going to teach at all; I’m just going to make art. But then I realized I wanted to give back. And the way I realized I wanted to give back is not money, because I don’t have any. It’s educating the youth of America and now of course, not just America.”

When asked, “How do you/your art help?” her response, like her art, was all about connecting. “In my words, I get out of my own artistic way and I help people have an opportunity to speak for themselves. I am not a documentary photographer. For me, art is creating acts of interpretation. And that has to be there for it to be called art. That leap from the thing itself. So, the leap from the mirror for example. You know it’s a mirror, but it’s definitely taking you somewhere else.”


Education, understanding, emotions—Natal’s work is a rich and finely woven, ever-unfolding cloth for communicating harsh realities to the general public. Judy Natal’s work does not confront the viewer, though. It’s elegantly seductive in its presentation. “I want my work to help people understand that they can make change. And that change is possible.”

Tea with Judy Natal and a Conversation about Process, Grief, and why Science needs Art

environmental critique

By Alex Nates-Perez

“Acclaimed Chicago photographer Judy Natal will talk about her recent work, Another Storm is Coming, and screen two moving new videos that were commissioned by the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences at Rice University (CENHS).  Commemorating the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina she dramatizes the effects of extreme weather on residents living along the Gulf Coast.”

This is a rare opportunity to see Natal’s new work—not to be missed!

See event details below and at 

Judy Natal: Another Storm is Coming

  • Tuesday, October 11, 2016
  • 6:30pm – 8:30pm
  • DePaul University, Lincoln Park Campus, McGowan South, 1110 W. Belden Ave., Chicago, IL  60614
  • Room 108
    • Featuring renowned Chicago artist and educator Judy Natal
    • Keynote address and video screening
    • Videos: Breathed on the Waters and Storm Redux

See photos from this project, Another Storm is Coming, at her…

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