Micro Focused on Climate Change: Borden’s Art Wins CT Sea Grant
You could say Guilford fiber artist Marsha Borden is micro focused on climate change awareness. Currently, she’s translating microalgae occurring in Long Island Sound into works of art, as one of three project artists selected to receive a 2022 Connecticut Sea Grant (CTSG) Arts Support Awards.
Each CTSG artist has been selected on the strength of projects which can be shared with the public to help raise awareness about coastal assets and concerns. Artists are provided with grants of up to $1,000 to support the creation of environmentally themed art that conveys messages aligned with CTSG’s mission. Learn more at the CTSG website, seagrant.uconn.edu, where a call for 2023 artists is underway.
“It’s quite an honor to be selected, because Connecticut Sea Grant is something I’ve been interested in for a long time. Their objective and goals are all about making people more aware of the ecosystems and aquatic life that surround us,” says Marsha. “I realized I had an opportunity to propose something that I like to do – making objects by hand with fiber – and also raising awareness about some of the harmful impacts in our environment, and how that’s changing it and the water that’s all around us.”
As a well-known textile artist and instructor who teaches at Guilford Art Center, Marsha notes she’s been using tactile, hands-on materials to actively explore environmental issues in her work for many years, to help raise awareness of “...how our planet copes with global warming.”
Among her vast body of work, Marsha’s created commissioned installations, including one display in New Haven several years ago built from nearly 2,000 re-purposed plastic shopping bags. While once-ubiquitous plastic store bags have since been replaced by paper and reusable bags in Connecticut and elsewhere, Marsha’s still working to call attention to other plastic bags, such as those used to deliver daily newspapers or sandwich-sized plastic bags.
“I just recently did an Earth Day event in upstate New York where I took newspaper plastic bags and I created a sculpture with community members. It was great, because it was a really nice dialogue. Yes, New York state has also eradicated the grocery store plastic bags, so we’ve solved one problem; but there’s still a lot of plastic out there. Let’s look at better ways to live our lives in more planet friendly ways and not lose track of taking care of Mother Earth.”
All of Marsha’s work can be viewed at her website marshaborden.com, including her CTSG project, which she has entitled “Bloom.” View Marsha’s progress with Bloom online at marshaborden.com/work#/bloom/
“I would love to have people go to my website and learn more as the project evolves,” she says.
To develop a body of work for Bloom, Marsha’s incorporating slow-stitch fiber arts techniques combined with “up-cycled” materials to replicate, in artistic form, multiple types of LI Sound’s microalgae.
She’s including toxin-releasing types which create harmful algal blooms, the frequency of which increase as waters acidify and become warmer due to climate change. She’s also including, “...good algae, which can help counteract some of the effects of global warming,” she explains.
As a Guilford resident, Marsha, says, “...living here, you enjoy living in this beautiful community. We have water all around us – the ocean and lakes. But there’s stuff living in there, microscopically, and there are some impacts happening here. For the project, I thought, ‘... how can I be the microscope? How can I encourage people to look at them on a large scale?’”
Looking at her project designs thus far, that’s exactly what she’s created (see photos with this story). Blown up to about 5,000 times in size (the largest pieces will be about 19 inches; the smallest about an inch), Marsha’s renderings are being created in fibers which mimic natural textures and colors.
“My goal was to create these things on a large scale and to have it be kind of fun and funky and different to change the story; and have people interact with a visual display of something they don’t really think about on a daily basis,” Marsha says. “I want people to see them, and the textures, colors, and patterns of them, and really get a handle on what they are.”
She’s pored over images and photographs of many types of phytoplankton. Once she’s honed in on an item she’s going to create, Marsha’s next steps involve selecting fiber techniques, materials and stitching which most closely approximates the subject.
“It’s going to be some hand-stitching, some embroidery, knitting, crocheting, a little bit of weaving, and a lot of free form techniques. There really are no patterns for this, so what I’m doing is making up my own patterns, which is what I love to do. I get to use my knowledge of designing textiles in the past and apply it to this. The fun part is figuring out how I’m going to create these within the size parameters that I’ve set.”
Marsha’s also incorporating as much renewable, sustainable and recycled material as possible. She’s researching both local sources as well as collectives in other countries, such as South America, where women are empowering their earnings through enterprises such as hand-dying fabrics. She’ll also be reusing materials of her own as part of her inventory.
“Within this project, I’m still thinking about sustainably sourced materials, and ways that I can reuse yarn or fabrics that I have. That’s a really important message for all of my work – is it planet-friendly, is it eco-friendly, am I reusing? I want to send that message out there.”
Once the work is complete, Marsha will be exhibiting the project as an educational art installation at various locations, from libraries to galleries. She also hopes to display her work at the Alexey von Schlippe Gallery at UConn Avery Point campus, where CTSG is based.
“I just feel really honored to receive this grant that gives the opportunity to all artists, whatever their genre is, to develop a body of work around these scientific topics that you’re making accessible to people,” says Marsha. “It gives you the chance to present the information artistically, and it get it out to all types of audiences to learn more.”
Marsha adds she truly feels one person can make a difference.
“The things happening with our planet seem so big; one person seems so small. What I’m is hoping my work, and the work of others doing this type of work, inspires people to think, ‘Maybe I can’t do something big, but I can do something.’ You can scale it down to something concrete. That’s what so exciting with this project. It’s increasing awareness, and encouraging a dialogue and seeking out more information.”