Eco-Art and the Berlin Wall

Deborah Kennedy | January 7, 2021 | Leave a Comment

Deborah Kennedy Eco-Art and the Berlin Wall

Schrift an der Mauer, 4/89, Berlin Wall, East Germany, supported by Museum Checkpoint Charlie (Detail). Kennedy © 1989 

Introduction to Berlin Wall Artworks and Nature Speaks: Listening Together Exhibition

In 1989, I created four large-scale artworks on the surface of the Berlin Wall, six months before the Wall fell. By November 11th, I had returned home and watched with astonishment as a  military police state collapsed without a single shot being fired. These formative experiences have unexpected connections to my later evolution as an eco-artist addressing our many environmental challenges. The story of the relationship between these diverse experiences will begin with my exhibition, Nature Speaks: Listening Together, and then I will trace my development back to the Berlin Wall.  

My exhibition in the San Jose City College gallery, Nature Speaks: Listening Together, included wall-art, books, and installations focusing on our ecological dilemmas, including climate change,  threats to our genetic heritage, and the extinction crisis. Additionally, the work highlighted the restorative power of organic, regenerative forces. With this work, I strive to support the growing edge, where we, as a global community, create new visions that will help solve our environmental problems.  

Featured Artworks from the Exhibition Nature Speaks: Listening Together  

Two of the artworks in this exhibition, Forgotten Fount I and Plastic Plankton, illustrate the connections between ourselves and often unseen and unnoticed parts of the world crucial to our species thriving.

Deborah Kennedy Eco-Art

Forgotten Fount I
Materials: Ink, chalk on eco paper 
Kennedy © 2017 

This drawing features floating human eggs in an aqueous landscape and images inspired by ecological diagrams and data visualization. This is a rumination on the necessity of protecting our genetic heritage—a largely ignored endeavor crucial to our survival. Today rising rates of infertility and miscarriages, as well as increases in some birth defects, signal the destructive impact of numerous threats to our fertility. 

Deborah Kennedy Eco-Art Plastic Plankton
Materials: Pigment, medium, damaged plexiglass and recycled plastic bags
Kennedy © 2017  

Plankton are diverse lifeforms floating in salt or fresh water where they perform innumerable ecological roles as they shape the geology and life on our planet.

Phytoplankton produced our planet’s first oxygen-rich atmosphere fostering the growth of other plants and eventually animals. Today, they produce almost seventy percent of the  available oxygen on Earth and their wide array of ecological services make them critical to supporting life on our planet.  

Today, the endlessly complex members of this silent, drifting world are threatened by numerous well-known environmental challenges and also face a newly defined challenge.  Plankton often mistake the tiny pieces of plastic in our seas, usually containing toxics, for food and eat it. These fundamental life forms broadly support the web of life and recent  scientific studies find they are declining at alarming rates. 

Book Launch at the Exhibition Nature Speaks: Listening Together

Deborah Kennedy Eco-ArtCover, Nature Speaks: Art and Poetry for the Earth 
Kennedy © 2016    

This exhibition was also a celebration of my recent book which was recognized with numerous awards. This is an independent review of Nature Speaks: Art and Poetry for the  Earth:  

“The clarity of the poetic voice in the author’s lines carry an intensity of feeling that communicates the subject’s vulnerability. The book offers a restless, analytical collection in which the forces of nature and science intertwine and often signal the acute precision  of the analysis itself. It is a culmination of parts drawn together, weaving amongst earthy illustrations and an exquisite layout—pulling the reader even deeper into the narrative.  The author’s work is fascinating, thought-provoking, and soul-stirring. The book is haunting and powerful—an affectionate work of art, critical for reading during such a  time as this.”  

US Review of Books, Eric Hoffer Book Award, Winner Poetry.

Illustrations from Nature Speaks: Art and Poetry for the Earth

Deborah KennedyIllustration for White Violet. Poetry excerpt, “…At my feet, white violets dance like tiny angels on the point of a pin. The thrush’s ice clear call circles through dusty shadows…” 
Kennedy © 2016

Deborah KennedyIllustration for Rough-legged Hawk. Poetry excerpt, “Hovering, he beats his wings like a  man driving nails into solid oak…”  
Kennedy © 2016


Changed Climate from the Exhibition Nature Speaks: Listening Together.

Deborah Kennedy

Changed Climate, Detail, Nature and ecology books, screws, soundtrack 
Kennedy © 2018  

Also included in Nature Speaks: Listening Together was an installation, Changed  Climate. The books in this artwork, now violently rendered inaccessible, contain images  of a thriving natural world now either gone or damaged, and vital scientific information.  Ecological challenges explored in these books include rising rates of species extinctions,  ocean acidification, the death of coral reefs, forest mortality, pollution of our air and  water, as well as an increasingly unstable climate.  

Climate change, our most pressing problem, is accelerating many of these environmental  challenges, and is starting to threaten the stability of our societies as food and water 

become more expensive and scarce. To ensure a healthy future for ourselves, our  children, and the natural world, we must be guided by good science and transform our lives and societies to support the health of all people and the biosphere.  

My treatment of these books was done with a grave heart and with a clear memory of the  repeated ill treatment of books at home and abroad. This “sinning in the name of art” is an attempt to rouse our sleeping consciousnesses. I subjected my own book to this furious  transformation. 

Deborah Kennedy
Changed Climate, Detail, Nature and ecology books, screws, soundtrack
Kennedy © 2018

Deborah Kennedy







Changed Climate, Detail, Nature and ecology books, screws, soundtrack 
Schrift an der Mauer, Berlin Wall, East Germany, Supported by Museum Checkpoint Charlie.
Ben Castro © 2018 

Schrift an der Mauer, Berlin Wall, East Germany, Supported by Museum Checkpoint Charlie

Deborah Kennedy Eco-Art and the Berlin Wall

Schrift an der Mauer was my last major work informed by social and humanitarian dilemmas and not focused on environmental themes. In this artwork, I asked ordinary people in West Berlin,  East Berlin, and the United States to write down their hopes and fears. Then, I inscribed 112  metal plaques with these statements and mounted them on the Berlin Wall. The inner thoughts and feelings of people from all of Berlin and from both sides of the Atlantic communicated together on the Wall, itself a potent emblem of both hope and fear, East and West. 
Kennedy © 1989  

Deborah Kennedy Eco-Art and the Berlin Wall

The ninth time the East  German Stasi or secret police came out from behind the wall. Three are standing in a defensive unit, one is videotaping the art  work. A crowd of 150 people stood on the West German side of the border just feet away from the East German soldiers. A tense  moment ensued after this photograph, when the East German soldier with the camera turned around and started to videotape the  crowd. A roar came up from the crowd, fists held high. The Stasi returned behind the wall shortly afterwards. 
Kennedy © 1989


Today, in the fall of 2020 as I sit confined in my house, struggling to avoid a pandemic surging across America for six months and dense smoke turning the skies an ominous orange as wildfires burn across the West. These raging fires are turning loved homes and forests into ash. The eastern and southern coasts are battered by a record-breaking number of destructive hurricanes, decimating homes and towns. Ordinary people are struggling with  the loss of jobs, economic woes and watching their family members die alone of  COVID-19. We are all living in a grim reality driven by climate change. Unfortunately,  many people do not understand COVID-19 is connected to our ecologically destructive ways. Today, deforestation, animal exploitation, and global warming are fostering a rapid  rise in dangerous pathogens including Zika, dengue fever and numerous tick-borne diseases.  

We are still grasping for short-term economic gains while threatening our long-term survival. The forces that keep this perilous system running seem so powerfully  entrenched and the scale of the problems seem beyond the scope of ordinary people to  change. However, if we do not make the serious and sweeping changes necessary to change our self-destructive path, we are headed toward greater ruin.  

This would seem a scenario for utter despair, but the lesson I learned in Berlin gives me hope and fuels my commitment to continue striving for ecological change. As I worked in  Berlin, I could not have imagined that six months later the people of East Germany would reunite with West Germany and a violent military police state would collapse without a  bloody confrontation. The fall of the Berlin Wall teaches us that we can make great and enlightened changes. Today, we must ask ourselves, “What other profound changes are  possible when people unite and work together for a better future?”

Deborah KennedyAn artist and writer, Deborah Kennedy’s work has been presented in the United States and Europe. Her work investigates the challenging relationship between ourselves and the larger natural world. Her last major project is a book featuring her detailed ink illustrations and poetry entitled, Nature Speaks: Art and Poetry for the Earth (White Cloud Press, 2016), a recipient of six book awards including a 2017 Silver Nautilus and the 2017 Eric Hoffer Poetry Book Award. An independent review of her book described it as “fascinating, thought-provoking, and soul-stirring.” Kennedy lives in San Jose, CA, teaches art and poetry workshops and presents poetry readings with her artwork at bookstores, schools, as well as, to poetry, ecology and spiritual groups.
Deborah Kennedy’s website. 

 Artist Deborah Kennedy in front of original illustrations for her book. Evan Miller © 2017 

This article is part of the MAHB Arts Community‘s “More About the Arts and the Anthropocene”. If you are an artist interested in sharing your thoughts and artwork, as it relates to the topic, please send a message to Michele Guieu, Eco-Artist and MAHB Arts Community coordinator: Thank you. ~

The views and opinions expressed through the MAHB Website are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the MAHB. The MAHB aims to share a range of perspectives and welcomes the discussions that they prompt.