The Biscayne Times

Aug 23rd
A Noble Salvage PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kim Ogren, BT Contributor   
December 2018

What can post-disaster art teach us about resiliency?

WPix_GoingGreen_12-18hen institutions and leaders fail to protect the voiceless, art can lend a voice. It can promote reflection and discussion. And some art seeks to change not just our perspectives, but our behaviors -- to protect the voiceless and ourselves.

Similar to other kinds of fusions and mashups, intersected professions in the art world offer compelling opportunities for creative endeavor. Theaster Gates, for example, is an urban planner and potter in Chicago; he repurposes neglected buildings and objects to address poverty and racism. Miami’s own Xavier Cortada, a UM business and law school graduate, melds climate science and art into ongoing participatory art projects to engage the community in large-scale responses to climate change.

I recently met an arborist on a bit of a hero’s journey, exploring what a new sub-genre -- post-disaster environmental art -- can teach us about sustainability and resiliency. Can the felled wood salvaged from hurricane wreckage become a vehicle for greater appreciation of the natural world, a tool to teach us how to protect that world in the future?

Ian Wogan, a Miami native, is the co-founder of True Tree Service. His three tours of post-disaster relief work in Puerto Rico, the Carolinas, and Panama City, my hometown here in Florida, inspired him to expand his urban forest conservation efforts and collaborate with Magnus Sodamin, his longtime friend and a Miami environmental artist who has held residencies at the Deering Estate and with AIRIE in the Everglades, and has a colorful mural on an exterior wall of NE 25th Street and Biscayne Boulevard in Edgewater.

The story of how they created the exhibit “Art of Fact,” which comprises large-scale live oak trunk hearts from downed trees that would otherwise have become hurricane debris, is an organic outgrowth of Wogan’s activism and his recent experience working with the live oaks, some of them more than 200 years old, that bore the brunt of Hurricane Michael in my now devastated hometown. (It took five days for some of my friends to chainsaw themselves out of their houses!)

The costs to the Panama City area are catastrophic. Economically, dealing with the debris is bankrupting one small municipality. NOAA satellite images already show the immediate increase in temperatures in the destructive path of the storm. But for generations who have grown up there and were settled in the ancient forested landscape, the loss is immeasurable.

By the time I was able to connect with Wogan to see if he could help me with my own trees, he’d been driving all night back to Miami. He didn’t sound as exhausted as I expected for someone who’d managed a crew of 14 arborists performing relief work for weeks on end, camping in the opaque darkness of a strange town.

Instead, he was excited about his travels to Panama City and then to Iron City, Georgia, where he’d gone to Cross Sawmill, which bills itself as “home to the world’s largest thin-kerf saw.” Cross mills live oak, which is heavy and exceedingly rot-resistant, is used in historic ship restoration. Its owner is Steve Cross, a charismatic, uniquely Southern engineer and fifth-generation sawyer.

Wogan was working in the historic Cove neighborhood of Panama City when he decided to call Sodamin to come up from Miami to see the massive pieces of wood for himself, and see what could be done with them.

“The damage was eye opening,” says Sodamin, who recalls that he was motivated to “take a level of destruction and see it as a potential for creation.” The Cross Sawmill is the only facility that can handle a 1500-pound piece the two selected for salvage.

“Art of Fact” will include, among other milled pieces, that massive portion of trunk, measuring eight feet by four feet, with Sodamin’s interpretation of the tree’s native landscape painted on its surface. The exhibit will be open to the public Friday and Saturday, December 7 and 8, from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m., at Sodamin’s studio (75 NE 39th St.) in the Design District, and after that by appointment ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ). Appropriately, satellite pieces are scheduled to be on display at Miami Botanical Garden (2000 Convention Center Dr.) in Miami  Beach.

The duo’s ambitions are intriguing. Wogan describes his intentions to address themes of relief, recovery, reuse, and resiliency. He wants to explore the idea of the autochthonous, he says, referring to that which is native to the place where it is found.

“Tree protection is an overlooked topic,” Sodamin explains. “How can you be a caretaker of the world, and how can that protection give back?”

As the two weave their narrative, I want to ask them: How can any collaboration between art and forest conservation be bolstered to achieve maximum impact?

Proceeds from the sale of the live oak artworks will go toward Hurricane Michael recovery through the promotion of public art back in Panama City.


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