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Monday, January 21, 2019

Climate Change Art

Waco (Texas) Friends of Peace/Climate art exhibit banner, 2018.
About 1988, our family visited the James Deering estate he called Vizcaya, situated on Biscayne Bay, in Miami. Located a few yards off shore behind the mansion is a stone breakwater known as Cleopatra's Barge (below). I recall that the steps and central section were roughly three feet above sea level. In 2015 when we again visited the estate, the steps and center deck were under about eight inches of water. Even allowing for a tidal range of as much as 2.5 feet (we visited about the same time of day both times) there was left little doubt in my mind that what I was seeing first hand was the sea level rise associated with what we're now calling climate change (as opposed to "global warming".) Until then this controversial phenomena was something I'd only read about. Today, the scientific data is indisputable. And the's pretty indisputable too...even in Waco, Texas (above).
Sea level rise in just 30 years. The water level was actually higher than seen above (several inches over the steps) when we last visited Vizcaya in 2015.
Though Waco, Texas, is a relatively small, local, art community, there is nothing small or local about climate change or its art. And just as the effects of climate change, now and in the future, are quite diverse, so too is the work artists from all over the world are now creating to attract attention to this looming disaster, as well as to enlighten and change public opinion on its significance. Sometimes the message is quite subtle and really quite beautiful, as in the CD album cover designed by Iago Pico & Michel Sult Condition for the Icelandic band, Deathwalking (below). The imagery evolves from hellish to heavenly, though a reversal of that transition might be considered more accurate.

Condition, Iago Pico and Michel Sult

American Gothic Underwater,
Though quite beautiful in its own way, there's nothing subtle about the image and messaging of American Gothic Underwater by Mandrak (right). Grant Wood is probably rolling over in his grave, but if art from the past serves any purpose at all, no higher calling could be imagined than keeping the world as we know it (and its art) high and dry. The artist here takes the familiar and (with a touch of humor) then attempts to shock the viewer by marrying it with the unfamiliar. The old farmer must be pretty good at holding his breath. Equally attractive, but from a left-brain statistical point of departure is the seven-piece watercolor series by Jill Pelto (below). Whereas other climate change artists rely on humor or an emotional awakening to bear their message, Jill presents graphic charts to support her remarkable images. Pelto holds two degrees from the University of Maine, one in earth science the other in studio art, thus allowing her to create paintings based on graphs of data on the environmental effects of climate change. Pelto’s paintings (below) are based on several different data sets that measure glacial melt, animal populations, and forest fires, among others. Each set focuses on the ways that climate change has affected these aspects of the environment.
The effects of climate change by the numbers.
When creating a piece, Pelto looks for something important that is happening but isn’t well-publicized--something people aren’t paying much attention to. Most of her data comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Climate Central and other researchers whose work she has studied. Pelto hopes that her pieces can work as a visual link to the data, grabbing the attention of people for whom those numbers aren’t enough. “As someone who’s interested in science, I’m intrigued by a graph in an article,” she said. “But I know the majority of people aren’t. They’re going to just skim over a graph. I think a much bigger percentage of people are attracted to the visuals of art.”

Climate Change art, Stephanie Granada
Climate change data has its problems. It's often seen as lofty and complicated, hard to digest, and even harder to conjure into feelings of urgency. But artists like Jill Pelto and Stephanie Granada (above) are stepping in to marry data with their crafts, bridging the gap between scientific information and human connection. Recognizing that people often act by heart rather than logic, these two artists aim to help viewers understand the data while developing an emotional attachment that convinces them to do something about it—now.

I Don't Believe in Global Warming, Banksy. Rhetoric versus reality.
Meanwhile, some artists, such as the famed New York graffiti painter, Banksy (above), have taken to street art to make their point. Rather than rely on graphic imagery, street art is all about placement in the (usually urban) environment. Though seeming to echo climate change deniers Banksy, in fact, pokes fun at their obstinance. Quite apart from statistics, how many floods, fires, super storms, and high tides will it take to shake loose such scientific ignorance? Ask those in North Carolina, Florida, or Paradise, California. Banksy's climate change art is often about as subtle as a bulldozer.

Street art from Uganda--nothing subtle, beautiful, statistical, or unemotional here.
Street art can be found on the bare walls of streets all over the would. With all the other problems Africa endures, and particularly the country of Uganda, it might surprise some to find that artists of this third-world country are so deeply involved and emotionally committed to art exposing climate change. Communicating climate change is complicated, and forecasting the impacts even more so. How do you communicate uncertainty? Using jargon and technical language often leaves audiences switched off. In 2012, the Kabarole Research and Resource Centre, along with private sector partners in Uganda, started to organize an Annual Street Art Festivals on Climate Change in the town of Fort-Portal, by profiling artists communicating about climate change. Participants take part in street debates broadcast live on radio, they watch films on climate change, and present musical and dramatic performances. The festivals have so far been quite successful. The events are interactive and fun, and participant numbers grew from 300 in 2012 to over 1,000 the following year.

It almost goes without saying, not all climate change artists paint. In fact some of the most effective works in this genre come from sculptors such as Spanish street artist Isaac Cordal. One of the best known of his cement sculpture installations is Waiting for Climate Change (below), created for the Château des Ducs de Bretagne in Nantes, France. Designed for the moat of the château, the 14 floating sculptures move with the wind and the water currents. Wearing business suit, impassive and blasé about the coming cataclysm – they absently watch the water level rise. This fascinating, and increasingly popular street artist, calls his works “interventions.”
Waiting for Climate Change, Isaac Cordal, Château des Ducs de Bretagne in Nantes, France.
Masterplan, Chad Wright
--sand castle art
Californian designer Chad Wright has made a sandcastle mold of a typical American house to recreate post-war suburbia on the beach (left). For this project he created a plastic mold that could be filled with sand and lifted off to reveal simplified L-shaped bungalow forms, complete with chimney breasts. Rows of these sand sculptures were constructed on a beach to mimic layouts of sprawling communities across the US. As the tide came in the sandcastles were slowly eroded by the waves, leaving them cracked, crumbling and unrecognizable as homes. Sometimes social and global issues are so pressing that they reflect in art of the times. A recent climate change cam-paign in Berlin by Brazilian artist Nele Azevedo was extremely creative and dark. It was an instal-lation art consisting of 1000 tiny ice sculptures of men sitting on the steps of Berlin Concert Hall (below). Though the original idea behind this installation art of melting men sculptures was to question the role of monuments in the cities, the work has a stronger impact as climate change art. Environmental activists could never put the message across more subtly and explicitly. The melting ice sculptures symbolize the possible impact melting of Arctic ice on the entire planet. It could trigger ultimate meltdown and disappearance of life on earth.

Melting Men, Nele Azevedo, Berlin Concert Hall.
Meanwhile in England, Eden TV, a new UK-based natural history TV channel, recently began broadcasting. To celebrate their launch, the network built a 16-foot-high sculpture of a mother polar bear and her cub stranded on an iceberg (below). Also meant to increase awareness about the plight of the polar bear and their dwindling habitat as a result of climate change, the sculpture was sent to float down the Thames river. The event took place on January 26, 2019, and started at Greenwich, South East London. traveling to the Tower Bridge and then to the House of Parliament. The 1.5-ton sculpture was created by a team of 15 artists, who worked for 2 months to build the 20-feet by 20-feet sculpture.

Climate change art floating down the Thames. No, it was not an ice sculpture.
Quite apart from the work of painters and sculptors, perhaps the most influential climate change art comes from the pens and brushes of political cartoonists such as Horsey and Feggo (below). Theirs is often in the form of dark humor--clever and thought-provoking, but seldom funny. Frequently such artists can get away with saying things in a cartoon modality writers and painters art reluctant to render (for various reasons). I could do an entire discourse on such art and the men and women who create it but I'm already running long here. So finally, to add insult to injury, I've included my own entry into the flood and firestorm of such art (bottom).

These were two of the milder examples of the social and political brands of climate change cartoons.

Copyright, Jim Lane
"It's a hoax, I tell you. It's all a HOAX!"


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