SUSAN BOETTGER: The sequence of our talks today by Andrea and Kathy are, I think, very felicitous. And so you will see that we will have a conversation between the speakers implicitly. And then explicitly, I'm doing research. I really welcome your responses, when we get to our conversations.
Last year, two significant events altered our understanding of our world. In April, for the first time since records began in 1958, the global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million. Carbon dioxide, as you know, is the primary driver of recent global climate volatility, and stays in the atmosphere for a very long time. Carbon is one of those so-called "greenhouse gases," released through human activities such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels, as well as natural processes such as respiration and volcanic eruptions that are forming a heat-trapping blanket around the globe.
Five years ago, scientist James Hanson-- until last year director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies-- wrote, "If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed, and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm." That is where we get the great organization I recommend to you, whose button I meant to wear-- 350.org. Look it up online. But since then, ppm has increased by 15.
Secondly, in the last year, the designation Anthropocene for our epoch gained widespread use in public discourse and in the humanities, as we can see today by Bill's very informative structural analysis. Prominently articulated by the atmospheric chemist and Nobel Prize Laureate Paul Crewdson in 2000, the term "Anthropocene" describes the idea of a new geological era starting around 1800 with the Industrial Revolution. Some put it much earlier, following the Holocene, which is shaped by deep interventions into nature by humans as biological and geological agents, as we can see here in this George Inness.
The human impact on the planet has been so great that the collective action of the species will be found in the geological record. As humans' disproportionate input into the system grows, the ecological balance has been altered. Last month, the New York Review of Books published an illustrative response to these situations. And its placement of the article first up in that issue indicates the increasing pressure of climate instability on social conscience.
British novelist Zadie Smith addressed what is happening to the weather. In her essay, Smith used the word "apocalypse" five times. And this was before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported at the end of March, two weeks ago, that the worst is yet to come. In the end, she speculated, the only thing that could create the necessary traction in our minds to generate what she had described as the absence of a global movement of the people that forced climate change onto the political agenda no matter the cost, was the intimate loss of the things we loved. After recounting a personal experience of a desiccated land, she concluded, "I found my mind finally beginning to turn from the elegaic-- what have we done-- to the practical-- what can we do?"
I'm beginning my talk with Smith's ending because, while her elegy acknowledges the difficulty of responding to the intensifying drumbeat of the debasement of our ecological system, as Smith observes, it's hard to keep apocalypse consistently in mind, especially if you want to get out of bed in the morning. This literary artist's desire for a global movement to get climate change on the political action plan parallels the trajectory of visual artists' engagement. Her conclusion succinctly articulates a direction.
And yet an ongoing spectrum in current art from representations of what we have done-- inevitably retrospective-- to a prospective pragmatism, environmental interventions, and increasingly direct advocacy. Consider the photograph illustrating Smith's essay. The violet alto-stratus just above the askew structure perfectly evokes the essay's title "Melancholy." Photographer Wyatt Gallery's deadpan identification "Displaced Home in Marsh, Midland Beach, Staten Island, November, 2012," gives us plenty of emotional space to call up the dark privations suffered by so many after being engulfed by Hurricane Sandy.
Compositionally, this is remarkably similar to John Constable's Hadleigh Castle, the Mouth of the Thames, Morning After a Stormy Night, made a couple of centuries earlier. There, it was the ruins of a riverside 13th century castle that stood not just for the loss of a romantic past, but for the preservation of a countryside culture against the ongoing enclosure and commercialization of rough lands once held in common. Constable's focus on landscape pastorals-- gorgeous-- studies can be viewed, as art historian Ann Birmingham has, as masking anxieties about the impact of Britain's industrial revolution on its small agrarian land mass. Stimulating both of these pictures is, as Smith's put it, the intimate loss-- or for Constable's countryside, the intimations of the loss-- of the things we love. The photographic image is more direct, being more topical, whereas Constable's political subtext has been largely lost in favor of thinking these as romances of the rural.
In between, we had land art in 1969. And here, a work that was in your Earth Art show, when the art world considered it progressive to distance Earth from Nature. In the catalog, director Thomas Lovett described the organizing principle of Earth Art as formal and material artists who use Earth as a medium.
Earth was dirt. It was matter that didn't matter. Their gigantic Earth moving was unfettered. It was done before the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency.
25 years later, Lovett described to me how he had insisted that Oppenheim tie a rope around his waist attached to trees along the banks of your Lake Beebe before he could be allowed to chainsaw a linear swath in the ice. Characteristic of earthworks, the bravado expanded on the swerving, gestural mark about Abstract Expressionism, here by Barnett Newman. Just as the piles of earth, anthracite and asbestos by Robert Morris, who had published Anti Form the year before in Art Forum, further actualized the emphasis on material processes of artists such as Helen Frankenthaler, whose Mountains and Sea was heralded as an innovation in the process of pouring paint on an unprimed canvas to bond flattened image to fabric.
These demonstrate that despite their nominal association to the planet, earth artists' working definition of environmental art was a site within which one moved. A prescient exhibition at the beginning of that decade, 1961, had been Environments, Situations, Spaces. Famously in that show was Allan Caprow's Yard, his dada-eqsue jumble of rubber tires, what he called objects of everyday life, in the Martha Jackson Gallery's courtyard. Yet the space it calls up is Jackson Pollock's, whose weighty posthumous influence Caprow had written about in ArtNews, enlarging Pollock's immersive experience.
The only reference and [INAUDIBLE] Nature in earth art was Walter DeMaris' inscription on a rectangle of potting soil. I hope you can read it-- an ambiguous gesture that always has made me wonder if that's what deMaria was doing when he illustrated his Mile-long Drawing in the Nevada desert by showing himself prone. Whereas the work in this exhibition is much beyond earthworks in complexity and environmental ethics, its trajectory was sparked nevertheless-- well, it's beyond it in ethics. Its trajectory was sparked by the prior 1962 expose by biologist journalist Rachel Carson and her Silent Spring, which galvanized the transformation of the 19th century practice of genteel conservation of wilderness parcels into a protectionist and politicized environmentalism, and as well, by Paul Ehrlich's foreboding Population Bomb.
The godfather of current activist environmental artists is the German-American Hans Haacke, who may have been the first to specifically take up that issue of pollution. His Rhine Water Purification Plant demonstrates his incorporation of social systems with physical ones. For this museum project, in Krefeld Germany in 1972, the chemical system displayed the local sewage plants' murky efflux, and treated and filtered it in the gallery to sufficiently return it to the Rhine River. With his accompanying data sheet posted in the gallery, Haacke recorded the level of untreated sewage that the City of Krefeld spewed into the Rhine, and identified the major municipal and industrial polluters. He not only performed a real-time system in purifying water, but his exposure of perpetrators put into motion direct public and then political intervention.
The environment, as both a sculptural and cultural construct, became an issue in the 1960s. But its two sorts of sources, spatial and social-political, have rendered the conception of environmental art ambiguous. For this reason, I describe art born from environmental activism as environmentalist. It suggests a more deliberate political engagement than eco art, which could appropriately include works about Mother Earth or material recycling.
The only major land artist who has evolved into being a proponent of environmental conscience is Mary Miss. In 1973, Miss deployed multiple wood constructions across the flat breadth of the Hudson River landfill. The circular cutouts framed and focused the white expanse into an immense interior space, while their progressive descent called up both sequential and cyclical time.
This is a work that needed to be traversed to experience its arcing sequence, the way Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, constructed in the Great Salt Lake three years later, has to be centripetally walked-- here are figures doing this, and they're walking-- to viscerally know its turning back through time to a primal beginning.
Mrs. Greenwood Pond's Double Site in Des Moines, Iowa was the first urban wetland project in the nation. While functionally incorporating wetlands into a recreational area, the layered wooden and screened lookouts and walkways promote heightened experience of both nature and design. By 2007, for the Boulder, Colorado Museum exhibition Weather Report-- Artists Respond to Climate Change, Miss took her practice of designing space to be experienced corporeally, and shifted it to a more overt environmentalism.
Paired by a local eco arts organization with a geologist and a hydrologist to project worst-case water levels of Boulder Creek, which winds through town, they considered the scenario of an extreme flash flood that statistically would occur only every 500 years, but could happen any time. She and student assistance placed blue dots on the sidewalk to indicate the perimeter of the potential flood plain. They wrapped blue metal disks, which were $0.29 paint can lids, on trees, fences, bridges, and stickers on buildings, to signal the potential height of the water. It would rise up to 19 feet above the stream bed.
The work was satisfying both for its visual its well as its physical economy. Yet the real impact was the physical immediacy. The effect of seeing the simple bright dots-- signs of water, droplets, or bubbles overhead-- and realizing that one would be swept away by the rapidly coursing floods, was immediate and gripping.
And yes, I was there-- then, thank god, not then. Because six years later, last fall, the 500-year flood swept through the Broad section of Boulder. So here is a work I characterize as addressing the Anthropocene.
It's not about nature. It's not about art. But by implication, it evokes humans' impact on the biosphere and the ensuing degradation. Its impetus is social aesthetics more than aesthetics, and as such, speaks not to the art world but to civic humanitas.
The concept of the Anthropocene can be extended as a scientific explanation for a constructivist view of nature. By recognizing the extent to which human agency is altering the natural world, the distinction between nature, and natural, and culture, and the social erodes. Scholars such as Bruno Latour and Timothy Morton challenge the nature of culture dichotomy as constructions, repetitively-- I mean respectively-- of politics and language. Well, it has been repetitively, also. Many books about this trying to get people to rethink this polarity.
Nature can be considered constructed in two senses-- materially altered by human strong presence. Is there any place in the world that we can say is primeval nature? I doubt it. And as magnified by our tools and technology, and intellectually constructed by our linguistic framing of it into terrains and moods, such as "the wilderness," "the pastoral," "the sublime," "the beautiful," and "Mother Earth"-- a term I really loathe.
That duality was powerfully illustrated way back in the Hudson River School and initiator Thomas Cole in his 1836 Oxbow. On the left side, with Cole's characteristic motif-- actually I don't need this. Here we are-- his blasted tree trunk over here. That is the insignia of Cole's painting.
Whereas here is his protagonist, down here. His protagonist painter who turns his back on the negative, the violence, to scan and paint the lovely, verdant meadows-- the insignia of "the beauty." So here is, like Edmund Burke put it, the sublime and the beautiful.
Now we such antipodal perspectives are simply simplistic, artificial constructs. Seattle photographer-artist-- his designation-- Chris Jordan flips them in his re-imagination of familiar pictures or types of images. For his Denali Denial of 2006-- his work over there-- appropriated a famous image of Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park, Alaska by Ansel Adams, known for his-- as you know from Bill-- pristine landscapes idealizing nature. Like I said, this epitomizes the beautiful.
Jordan reconstructed the image through an intricate grid repetition of the name "Denali" from an SUV of that name made by GM-- a big, boxy kind of hog vehicle. The number of rectangles here comprising Jordan's image-- 24,000-- represents six weeks of the Denali's SUV's global sales in 2006. So the picture also functions as a visualization of data.
In this focus on subject matter displaying the extent of humans' mercantile presence in the environment, Jordan's work illustrates the Anthropocene. Mixed into the grid on the black is another word, created by cleverly inverting the name's the last two letters-- "denial," presumably of the gas-guzzling, carbon-emitting irresponsibility of driving an SUV. Sorry, folks. This is from his series Running the Numbers, an American Self-portrait, works imaging vast numbers generating awe about both the data and the clever manipulation of it, that would be characterized as the statistical sublime.
A second Running the Numbers, Portraits of a Global Mass Culture by Jordan is van Gogh's Starry Night fashioned from the images of 50,000 cigarette lighters, which represents the number of pieces of plastic floating in every square mile of the world's oceans. The imaginative play with waste can easily take the form of educative, participatory public art. Last month, Jordan was in Melbourne for the Sustainable Living Festival. The telephone company solicited its customers to donate their unwanted and obsolete cell phones so the metals, mineral, plastics, and glass can be recycled rather than piled in landfills. Jordan worked with children to fashion a portion of the waste into a work of art here-- a cell phone made large-- the number 23 representing the millions of phones in Australia estimated to be unused and available for recycling.
Ruth Hardinger, an artist in New York City and an ardent campaigner against the practice of hydro-fracking, also graphically depicts the dominant human presence in the environment. Her two prints from 2013 show fugitive emissions of methane from municipal pipelines in Manhattan and San Francisco, such as what recently caused an explosion in Harlem. The global warming potential of methane is very strong compared to CO2.
Methane degrades quickly in 12 years, but it degrades to CO2. So even after degrading, it has an ability to still hold an important greenhouse gas for this century and beyond. Labels accompanying these prints note, "The IPCC says that one pound of methane is like 86 pounds of CO2 in a 20-year time span." And then above it are pictures of her cast concrete sculptures that she makes out of boxes. And concrete is a contributor to greenhouse gases. And this is placed above these cities as if a monster threat about to drop.
The most well-known artist to take up the anthropogenic topic of the massive impact of industrial development on the natural environment is the Toronto photographer Edward Burtynsky. His breakthrough image in the 1990s are of quarries, such as this of the Rock of Ages Corporation in Vermont. Using a large format viewfinder camera for extremely crisp, detailed images, Burtynsky's pictures often emphasize numerousness, vastness, disparities of scale.
We have, actually, some kind of construction materials in here. The human in contrast to the natural, elements of the sublime, to show the anthropogenic footprint. The artist's formalization of these overwhelming amounts and spectacular pictures of shock and awe scales may also-- for him and many other artists-- be a way to manage their own fears of a looming catastrophe, to bring them at least under artistic control.
The effect is both mesmerizing as a visual spectacle, and is ethically destabilizing. The effect flips back and forth. Is that still pool below the chiseled rock, the lurid green-- is it lurid green because of the algae feeding on mineral deposits, or runoff from the removal process? Burtynsky's Rock of Ages series provides tangible evidence of the entwinement a fulfillment of consumer demands on an epic scale and ensuing resource depletion. And is the title of these massive hole extractions, the biblical "rock of ages," supposed to be taken as ironic? As after the granite is quarried, the age of the rock in situ ends.
Saturated in color and detail, his pictures are as rich as the consumerism that drives these extractions, which we hope he deplores. He doesn't extol the virtues of human development of land, as did Andrew Russell, who, when commissioned by the Union Pacific Railroad to encourage railway travel in the West in the late 1860s, shows a smoking train car that parallels the shape and implicitly rivals the power of the natural pinnacle-- or we could think of nipple of Mother Earth. A portion already cut into-- here's our quarries again in the 19th century-- stack of stone blocks.
Similarly, Burtynsky's pictures of the ship-wrecking business in Bangladesh, dismantling decommissioned ships from metal recycling and work, is too dangerous and poorly compensated for any other nation to take on. It calls up Robert Howlett's Inverse, a famous image of the construction of the Great Eastern, which 150 years ago was the largest vessel on water, and thus championed as the Leviathan. But Burtynsky's rather emotionally detached presentation often emphasizes sensual beauty, and blunts the social message.
And actually, let me just say, I spoke to him last Friday night at the initial screening of a film that he now has been the co-director of, not just the subject of. The last film, Manufactored Landscape, was about his work. Then he decided to become the co-director with the director of the first one.
And this film is called Watermark. And again, he's almost the Andy Goldsworthy of let us all swoon over about your beautiful images. But very little about-- it's called Watermark.
It's about water all over the world-- India, beautiful caverns in the southwest, and in festivals, and such-- very little about what's going on with the water. It's under threat. And afterward, he said, well, his next film, he's thinking of becoming a little bit more overt. So we can all kind of try to look for that.
Although, in Andrea managed to get the very best, the very best, most pointed Burtynsky in Oxford Tire Pile located in central south California, part of his Manufactured Landscape series, a rare Burtynsky that less ambivalently conveys our squeezing off of open, unbuilt spaces by development, consumption, and the burden of garbage.
Richard Misrach, veteran of ravaged landscapes-- in the late 1980s, he camped out in the Nevada desert where for 35 years, the US Navy took possession of an expanse of public land and had been illegally testing high explosive bombs. The picture on the bottom shows the festering wound of a bomb crater. In the upper left, the Oakland Hills after a wild fire in 1991, not far from his studio in Emeryville. The top right is post-Katrina residential ruin, and actually, the title of a book he did on this subject.
Evincing artists' increasing overt modes of address regarding environmental degradation is Misrach's boldly titled Petrochemical America, a book made with the architect and designer Kate Orff for an exhibition on picturing the South commissioned by the High Museum, Atlanta, Misrach photographed 150-mile industrial corridor along the Mississippi River east of New Orleans, which is the locale of the two proximate intersection of over 100 oil refineries, chemical manufacturing facilities, sugar refineries, arboreal landscapes, and human habitats known as Cancer Alley. The subject matter is hot.
Per the picture's caption here, per the picture's caption, with 26,000 miles of pipeline to the oil-laden southern parishes and coastal wetlands, the web of canals through pastures and marshlands, with resulting erosions, wetlands are being swallowed into the Gulf of Mexico. The wetlands are swallowed, thus coming up into the land. Salty tides sweep into marshlands, withering trees.
Correspondingly, the images are cool. The subject is hot, but he is cool. But still, he makes it more clear exactly where he stands-- emotionally reticent, letting us come to them to behold the pallor of terminal debilitation, suggestive more than descriptive of the air pollution. Here, the barricaded link fence-- we're only informed of it through the title-- Hazardous Waste Containment Site. Hazardous waste, Dow Chemical Corporation, Mississippi River, saying it all.
This, according to the caption, "A forthcoming housing development--" right adjacent to the putrid, dangerous swamps, the withering trees. But in the back of the book here, accompanied by greater than half of the volume-- I shouldn't say back of the book-- greater than half of the volume-- the imaginative charts and informative text on the network of petroleum, ecology, sociology, economics of the area. And by extension of the developed world, the amount of research that went into this book-- the creative layering of data in the graphics-- is as awesome as the images.
A separate glossary of terms and solutions for a post-petrochemical culture is slipped into the back cover to offer proactive solutions. This is a demonstration of linking aesthetic and social attention to Zadie Smith's turn to the pragmatic. What can we do? And since I am taking the artist's position and enacting at myself, I'm speaking from a position of advocacy.
Let me tell you-- get this book. I think this is the best-- definitely the best book published last year. This book is profoundly moving and profoundly informative, because it lays it all out.
The American Banerjee emphasized his priorities when speaking about his work at Bill Fox's last conference, 2011, which I was very pleased to be able to experience because of things like this. This is what happens at conferences. You hear things you may not-- Banerjee stands up-- well, Bill introduces him-- and says, "I am an activist who uses photography." That's an inversion. That's an inversion in a art world context.
Through his website, Climate Storytellers, the effects of environmental degradation are recounted-- he has a website-- by people directly experiencing them, another example of making the loss is intimate to move people on not just an informational, cognitive level, but an emotional one. Before establishing that website, for 12 years, Banerjee self-funded, from his base residence in Seattle, long sessions in the American Arctic. The Arctic River deltas and its surrounding tundra, wetlands, coastal lagoons, barrier islands, offshore waters provides rich ecological habitats for caribou and numerous migratory bird species, like these geese.
He takes sweeping aerial photographs to acquaint us with the striking terrain. But his contextualisation of that is the Arctic as a focal point of global warming, of migration of birds and caribous, and resource wars. Major Arctic River deltas usually lie atop potentially vast amounts of oil and natural gas resources.
And it's an ongoing struggle to preserve the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas development. His Caribou Migration, Oil and the Caribou is Banerjee's most widely reproduced image. In galleries, it's printed quite large. It's environmental, spatially, as well as environmentalist.
The bird's-eye view point renders the huge, pregnant caribou tiny and isolated as a group, migrating over a frozen river. The abstract design is compelling for its rendering of the icy aquamarine beauty. The coastal plain is the main calving area of the Porcupine River caribou herd, and oil development would disturb that. Arctic warming and ever expanding resource extraction projects are having a significant negative impact on the caribou and the bird habitats of the North.
So then it's even more shocking to see in adjacent photographs of men of the [INAUDIBLE] nation, 15 villages across northeast and northwest Canada, slaughtering one of these caribou. This illustrates the interconnectedness of resource needs, and makes visible the coming together of ecological and human rights issues in the most contentious public land debate in the US. For the [INAUDIBLE] nation, it's a mixed species rights issue-- to preserve the calving ground of the caribou as well as these grounds where they themselves hunt for caribou or food.
One of Banerjee's main issues is biodiversity loss, which has been typically established to rival pollution and the broader effects of climate change as a force in ecosystem degradation. His compendium that he edited, Arctic Voices, highlights the resource conflicts germane to the continent's vulnerability and their implications to the rest of us and the rest of the globe. Recognition of the disproportionate impact of humans on the environment has a corollary of realization that less developed areas and more economically vulnerable peoples suffer deprivations much more than the rest of us. The term for that issue increasingly gaining traction is "environmental justice--" fairness in the use and distribution of environmental resources, not only for all humans and social strata, but for all living things.
Other groups in need of protection are both farmers vulnerable to economic squeeze by industrial farming and the native seeds themselves. At the 2007 international exhibition Documenta, in Germany, Kassel, Viennese artist Ines Doujak addressed a new form of colonialism by multinational corporations, biopiracy. In Doujak's Seigesgarten-- Victory Garden-- the seed packets sprouting from her flower bed criticize the bio politics of the EU and the US for turning a blind eye on ruthless economization of nature and life.
On the front of the packets, photo collages show lush, oversized blossoms with sexualized figures, calling up Gauguin's fantasy of primitivist exoticism, or satires of corporate types, such as this man with the Monsanto logo, the pig-- Monsanto, the corporation which holds a lock on patents for seeds that industrial farming needs. Here on the back, descriptions of actual examples of Western industrial nations' practice of acquiring property rights, and the Western industry's practice of acquiring property rights on valuable genetic resources without adequate financial compensation. And the ensuing global exploitation, genetic engineering, and monoculture inform viewers of the conditions and consequences of biopiracy.
Let me take a break. You can contemplate this a minute. I need to-- [SWALLOWS] all right.
It may appear from this survey exhibition, and from the illustrations accompanying today's talks by all of us, that artists' responses to anthropogenic climate change range from the imagistic poetic to be implicitly political polemical, that is the elusive to the confrontational. Yes and no. Of course, there is a spectrum of directness.
But I assert directly that the strongest works are not either. They are both, operating on and addressing multiple levels of consciousness. Yang Yi's Uprooted Number One, Old Town, Kaixian Fruit Company's Dormitory, 2007, foretells the submersion of his small hometown of Kaixian when the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River opens two years later, which displaced over 1.2 million people and destroyed 11 cities.
Yi has described his Uprooted series as his personal memoir of his native home region. Yet it's more than that. The faint illumination and sparse bubbles suggest a modern, deliberately created Atlantis, while the small figure and distinct, almost as if an apparition, faces the viewer as if to ask if we did all we could to prevent our losses.
I'll conclude with an exemplary contemporary artist, Brandon Ballengee. To deal with climate science and environmental politics, all of these artists have become research driven, interdisciplinarians. Ballengee's training is both in art and biology.
He specializes in amphibians. And equally, the impetus of aesthetic innovation has been superseded by that of environmental and deeply social ethics. Here is Ballengee's Collapse.
And there it is above us. I am so respectful and [INAUDIBLE] for bringing this here. I have had the pleasure of seeing this here at the Ronald Feldman Gallery, and happened to be outside of Paris last summer in a park-like, wave-hill-like former mansion.
Here is Ballengee's Collapse, a complicated construction which we must praise-- I praised, already praised for bringing it here-- and a big topic, suggesting the artist's confident ambitiousness. The most direct instigation of this construction is the ecosystem destruction in the Gulf of Mexico following the 2010 explosion of BP drilling rig, and the eventual release of over 4 million barrels of oil. The monumental quadrilateral pyramid takes its form from a tropic pyramid-- that is an ecosystem food chain from simple producers to complex predator consumers.
The stacked one-gallon jars, which you can go up and look at, contain specimens and clear preservative, sequenced from the simplest life forms such as purple barnacle through mackerel, scad, culminating in a juvenile blackfish shark. Anchoring the bottom corners are jars of crude oil and Corexit, the toxic solvent used as a dispersant, which breaks the oil slick into subsurface globules, hiding them from view, but also accelerating the oil's detrimental consumption by marine life. The disturbingly empty jars indicating extinct species due to habitat degradation, overfishing, and the warming seas of climate change increase in rate-- the empty jars-- up to the top.
The loss is signified by Ballengee's pyramid's barren jars call up the association of the. Barrenness to the ancient Egypt's pyramids as tombs. And the glistening, vacant jar at the apex resembles the radiant eye of Providence atop the unfinished pyramid and our dollar bill, linking the pyramid death theme to commerce, the stimulus of oil drilling, ensuing ecological and economic devastation.
Ballengee also references mortality in his titling of a set of unique prints Reliquaries. Reliquary-- a sacred container for bones, hair, cloth of religious martyrs. His subjects are tree frogs and toads terminally deformed due to wetlands ecological imbalances, accentuated by the removal of flesh-- his removal of their flesh-- and the addition of standing bones and cartilage distinct hues, and with the images of the tiny creatures printed large scale like a painting, we get another experience of shock and awe. The amphibians' grotesquely malformed, supine anatomy graphically shows its just too many legs, while the pose is that of a twisted, flattened form in a crucifixion.
So here's another illustration of Smith's strategy to move people by showing intimate loss of the things we loved. Do I love frogs? Not particularly, or even not at all. But I recognize myself in them, sprawled in bed, or doing my breaststroke in the pool twice a week.
And beyond the anthropocentrism implied by that, the empathy extends to perceiving that they are part and essential to the great chain of being of biodiversity-- which we heard so much about last night-- for a whole, balanced, resilient ecosystem. Environmentalist art is about environmental activism. But in taking up the challenge of how to get the public to act in its own best interests for the long term, it's the nature of works of art that they don't need to do something pragmatic or practical. Rather, for the strongest work, it's enough not to just do something, but to sit there on the wall. If immobile but engaged contemplation of an image connects us to the intimate laws of the things we loved and changes our mind, that may be the most effective form of activism. Thank you.
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"Shock and Awe: Environmentalist Art's Representation of the Anthropocene," a lecture by Suzaan Boettger, PhD, an art historian, art critic, and international lecturer based in New York City.
Artists, curators, and art historians explored topics found in the Johnson Museum of Art's "beyond earth art" exhibition April 11 during the 2014 Atkinson Symposium.
The symposium was funded by Cornell's Atkinson Forum in American Studies Program and organized by Andrea Inselmann, curator, and the education department of the Johnson Museum of Art.