“When the sun is burning, we remember those tales about light…”
A new art installation on Tumamoc Hill invites the community to create weather proverbs as a meditation on climate change. The project, “Future Climate Proverbs,” is hosted by the University of Arizona’s Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill and collaborates with the UA Poetry Center.
According to Ben Wilder, director of the Desert Laboratory, the project encourages people to slow down and observe the world around them.
“Long-held understandings of weather and climate have been preserved in sayings and proverbs, such as ‘red skies at night, sailors’ delight’, which in English has centuries of experience, but in other cultures is also very important,” Wilder said. .
The goal of the project is to recognize that this long-held knowledge of the weather changes with climate, according to Wilder. The art installation features four slates along the hike on Tumamoc Hill for walkers to respond to a proverb prompt using chalk.
The slates have prompts written in English, Spanish and O’odham languages. A prompt in O’odham translates to “when the moon is half full and stands upright, it will…” A prompt in Spanish translates to “when the light heals, we remember it in the name of the sun …”
“We can take a proactive role in the change around us and try to inflict positivity in what may be an overriding fear-based response to climate change,” Wilder said.
Arts philosopher Jonathon Keats led the project and also composed the guests with local poets Raquel Gutiérrez and Ofelia Zepeda.
Keats wanted to think about rhyme and repetition, as well as weather signs indicative of Tucson and the Sonoran Desert.
“I was particularly interested in looking at the differences between summer and winter rainfall, and the conditions that tend to predict them,” Keats said.
Keats wrote the two prompts in English: “When the heat of summer is struck by thunder”…and “if the winter storm clouds gather cold…”
The slates can be found at the bottom of the hill in Tumamoc near the boathouse, halfway up the hill in front of the agave garden, near the middle gate, and at the top of the hill.
Wilder linked the answers on the slates to The New Yorker, which has a cartoon section where captions are left blank to entice readers around the world to fill in their own answers.
“People’s creativity is amazing and that’s what we see here,” Wilder said.
Another goal of the project is to help people who visit Tumamoc Hill see the intersecting cultures and geographies that exist around the location.
“There are so many things coexisting in space and time in this place, thousands of years of cultural history, the longest continuously studied desert site, a site where people come for their first date you, a site where there is antennas at the top of the hill transmitting through the city atop archaeological ruins,” Wilder said. “There are so many things calling us here.”
The project held its launch event on January 29. During the launch event, there was a live screen print of t-shirts that included sayings such as “time has habits recalled to the rhythm of proverbs”. The t-shirts were printed in the same three languages featured on the proverbs.
The event also included a workshop on weather proverbs hosted by Keats. During the workshop, participants created their own logbooks to take home and continue to write down their observations, according to Wilder.
“We don’t have huge staff here, we don’t have huge capacity to do that, but when we open up these spaces and allow people into these buildings that they’ve been walking through for years and aren’t known what they are or what they look like on the inside or what we do here, it’s so great to be able to connect with the community in this way,” said Wilder.
The launch event was originally scheduled to take place in November, during their first workshop. However, they decided to do the slates three weeks before the workshop, so they pushed it back to January, according to Wilder.
One of Wilder’s goals is to expand the project to other regions and eventually gain momentum to expand globally.
The other element of the art installation is through social media. Using #FutureClimateProverbs, people can take photos of the answers that inspired them or create their own using social media.
“The idea is that we’re creating an archive of community responses that we can all engage with,” Wilder said.