Yearly Archives: 2019

Entropy – 10th anniversary of the Black Saturday Fire – February 8, 2009, Victoria, Australia

Fire has been an element of the Australian landscape for tens of thousands of years. The indigenous Aboriginal people used it in a controlled manner to manage fuel loads, and more recently European settlers also used it to clear land for pasture. But out of control wildfire can exact immense devastation on both the natural environment and civilization. And only two things ignite a wild fire: lightening and the actions of people.

Growing data on global catastrophic fires reveals that exaggerated – often record-breaking – droughts and heat driven by human-induced climate change are causing more extreme fires to strike, and strike more frequently. Recent horrific wildfires in Spain, Portugal, Greece, California, Chile and even Hawaii add a heavy weight to this testimony. 2018 saw fires in Sweden reach inside the Arctic Circle for the first time. The 2018 wildfire season in California was the deadliest and most destructive on record, with a total of 8,527 fires burning an area of 1,893,913 acres.

Detail of composite image.

Ten years ago, on February 8, 2009, Australia experienced its most catastrophic fire in recorded history; 173 people perished and the fire burned a staggering 1,000,000 acres in a single day. The week before the fire assault saw consecutive days over 43 °C in Melbourne’s central business district. On the day of the fire, a new heat record of 46.4 °C (115.5 °F) was set. (This record was broken again in January this year with 46.7 °C .)

The day of the 2009 Black Saturday Fire, 100 km/h winds
blew from the inland desert, inflicting something like a hot fan oven in
overdrive on all living beings. To aggravate the situation, with no rain for
over a month, and an eleven-year dry period, the landscape was like an
explosive time bomb hyperventilating from strong drying winds. These combined
climatic conditions made it evident that infrastructures like trains, power,
etc. were struggling and that they were simply not designed for these extremes.

Entropy triptych, frame 126-127-128. From Kinglake looking down the valley toward St. Andrews, February 17, 2009.

The fire ignited about 50 km away from where I live at St. Andrews from an electrical transformer fault. Windblown embers then started a fire a few valleys over from us which began heading towards our house and the Baldessin Press printmaking studio. We were away from the area, and as the ferocious fire front approached, the neighbors were frantically calling, telling us: don’t expect a house when you get back. But as fate would have it, the wind suddenly changed and blew in from the south at about 120 km/h; the fire changed direction, away from the press. However, the long burning flank suddenly became the head and the scale escalated by 100 times.

The immense destructive force rushed away from our place, and up the valley to the top of the mountain at speeds of about 200 km/h with the roaring sound of low flying jets. The heat was so intense that houses and cars exploded before the flames even reached them. From some angles, the fire was so hot that there was no real smoke – just flames and fire balls from vaporized eucalyptus oil in the leaves of the trees. Most people had no warning or chance of escape.

Entropy triptych, frames 2278-79-80. A walk between Brian and Di Gilkes studio at Ninks Rd and Baldspur Rd, St. Andrews, April 27, 2009.

While we are privileged to operate a printmaking studio in a bushland setting, The Baldessin Press, and the fire missed us by a wind change and a few kilometers, we had an artist friend who had worked in the studio perish in the fire. We were not home at the time but returned home the next day.

My first trip into the burnt-out desolate area was with Stewart Morgan up Olives Lane to his devastated property. As soon as I opened the door of the car, there was an overwhelming peculiar smell or sensation of a smell. Years ago, when I was in my 20s, I had been put up to change the stones on the base of a large bread oven. I was the skinniest one on hand. I had to crawl inside the oven, pass out the stones, and lay the new stones. Inside the oven was a strange sensation, as though the oxygen had been consumed
through the intense heat. Now, on opening the door of the car, the same sensation from 40 years earlier came flooding back. The smell sensation of the fire area, the charred trees and ash, was the same only much more intense. It was as though all the living energy had been consumed and we were in a vacuum devoid of life.

As an artist I felt compelled to respond to the fire. A few days after the tragic event, I gained police permission to enter the area and photographed the charred ashen landscape. I took a series of three disjointed images that combined to create a triptych in a technique I had used on The Last Rivers Song project in 1983. Over nearly 2 years, I continued to return to the fire-affected area and photograph the regeneration of the bush and nature. I built a huge archive of thousands of photographs.

Entropy triptych, frames 40-41-42. From a walk at Ninks Rd, January 20, 2010.

From this enormous archive I was challenged to produce works that embodied the complexity and subtleness of the gradual return of green from the stark grey landscape. A time-based screen work offered a

Hence, the Entropy project evolved. I worked with Alex Hayes to develop two apps. One allowed me to build a huge composite image of hundreds of triptychs. In total, there were 30 of these mosaic composites.

The second projection application was written in C++ and when playing, began by selecting one of 30 large composite images and randomly generated a pathway to a single image, which eventually filled the screen before returning to another large composite image. The projection plays at 120 frames per second and manages over 5,000 images. Unlike a video loop, the application creates a random on-going unique sequence from the archive. Entropy String randomized projection featured in Bushfire Australia at TarraWarra Museum of Art in 2010. The projection consisted of more than 4,500 images and was developed with assistance from Regional Arts Victoria and Arts Victoria.

Scene two: Randomly, one quarter of the composite image slowly fades to black leaving the remaining section illuminated.
This section then zooms up until a single line of triptychs fill the screen.
Scene three: The line of triptychs – two to five of them – remain illuminated while the remaining triptychs of the section fade to black. The line of triptychs enlarges to fill the screen and then scrolls across the screen until randomly stopping at a single image
Scene four: The single image zooms up to fill the full screen, remaining for a time and then fading to black, before another large composite image materializes to fill the screen. From here another random sequence is constructed. The scenes are repeated but with different composites, triptychs and images. So, the projection is not a loop, but a randomized sequence based on the composites and the thousands of images in the data bank. The computer is rendering a self-generated “movie” in HD at 120 frames per second.

The work juxtaposes the abstract macro view by zooming into the micro.

While prints from the archive were exhibited in a number of exhibitions, in 2011 the work featured in a solo exhibition at the Australian Centre for Photography, with prints and the screen work. The series also featured in a solo survey exhibition at Deaken University Art Gallery in 2014, A PHOTO: synthetic pathway.

The screen work was purchased by Deakin University and plays continuously in the library at the Burwood Campus. The project can be viewed as a free e-book.

As an opportunity to reflect and commemorate the tenth anniversary of the fire, the local Nillumbik Shire Council has curated an exhibition, Renewal, which will be held January 24 – February 25, 2019 across two spaces: Eltham Library Community Gallery and Wadambuk Art Gallery.

(Top image: A large composite work, Entropy string 25, consisting of Triptychs 354, including 1062 images, is included in the exhibition. Pigment print, 110 cm x 194 cm.)

See also Lloyd Godman’s previous article: Creating Sustainable Living Plant Sculptures


Lloyd Godman is an ecological artist whose current work explores practical ways to integrate plants into urban infrastructure in a truly sustainable manner. He established and was head of the photo section at the Dunedin Art School, New Zealand for twenty years before moving to Melbourne, where he taught at RMIT for nine years. He is Vice President of the Baldessin Press, where he lives with his partner. Lloyd holds an MFA from RMIT University Melbourne (1999). Perhaps this from John Power, Editor of Facility Management Magazine best sums up his work.  “Lloyd Godman is one of a new breed of environmental artists whose work is directly influencing “green” building design… Godman’s installations are the result of a unique blend of botanical science, environmental awareness and artistic expression. All three elements are intrinsic to the practical realization of his polymathic vision.”


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Wind Knitting Factory

by Joan Sullivan 

I’d love to go on a treasure hunt with Dutch designer Merel Karhof through the backstreets and cul-de-sacs of London or Amsterdam.

Karhof, who splits her time between the two cities, has spent more than a decade perfecting what she calls “revealing the unnoticed” in public spaces. Trained at the Design Academy (Eindhoven) and the Royal College of Art (London), Karhof delights in combining playful curiosity with technical research and design. The result is an impressive body of work that draws our attention to the many gifts provided by nature – wind, light and water – in urban environments.  

“These natural elements are my tools, part of my toolbox,” explained Karhof in a trans-Atlantic phone interview. “What is important to me is to explain [technical] things to people through my work.”

Wind energy is one of Karhof’s favorite tools. As a designer, she wondered what would be the best way to demonstrate how the wind’s free energy can be harnessed to create useful products. In 2009, after several months of research, she designed what is quite possibly the world’s first wind-powered knitting machine.

The genius of Karhof’s Wind Knitting Factory is that it is accessible. Unlike the industrial wind turbines that I photograph (most of which are located far from urban centers), Karhof’s portable windmill can be installed almost anywhere in an urban setting, perched atop a variety of surfaces: windowsills, balconies, gates, porches, fences, and even on a simple tripod.

“I bring my windmill with me when I travel,” Karhof says. “Wherever I set it up, it draws people in. At first they are surprised and then they smile when they realize what I am doing.”

What she is doing, in my opinion, is extremely important. Whether intentionally or not, Karhof has added her voice to those of other artists who are “changing the narrative” about climate change and the inevitable clean energy transition. She does this by creating a sense of awe and wonder about a humble technical object – a windmill – that many people have never seen up close, much less in their own neighbourhoods.

Karhof’s wind knitting machine acts like a magnet: it immediately draws people in, seducing them to take a few minutes out of their busy schedules to meditate on the delightful fact that the wind is knitting a woolen scarf – right in front of their eyes. Imagine the potential conversations about clean energy that designers such as Karhof could have with a captive audience like this!

Now imagine these same conversations continuing over the following days and weeks, as Karhof’s wind-knitted scarves are purchased and given as gifts to friends and family. This is how artists and designers contribute to “changing the narrative” – by lighting a spark that continues to burn on its own, without further intervention by those who initiated it. The same could be said of Lennon/Ono’s iconic anthem Imagine, which continues to inspire almost 50 years after it was written.

Karhof’s message is simple: urban environments provide myriad energy resources – wind, solar, water – that are “unnoticed” and, by consequence, unused. The majority of the free wind energy that whips through our cities remains unharnessed. Artists, designers and architects can help open our eyes to “see” these gifts and, more importantly, to find creative and sustainable ways to turn them into useful products or to power our lives.

If you would like to purchase one of Karhof’s wind-knitted scarves, visit her online store. She also sells other wind-knitted textiles including bracelets, cushions and upholstered furniture at art installations, galleries, art shows and online.

Wind is not the only tool in Karhof’s artist toolbox. She frequently collaborates with other designers and scientists on a wide variety of projects that explore color, light, water, natural dyes, recycled tiles and, most recently, reviving the old Dutch craft of leather tanning using discarded fish skins. I will save these treasures for a future post about Merel Karhof, preferably after accompanying her through the backstreets and cul-de-sacs of London or Amsterdam as she hunts for her next inspiration to “reveal the unnoticed” of our daily urban lives. If I am lucky, in London and Amsterdam.

(Top image: Photo by Merel Karhof.)

This article is part of the Renewable Energy series.


Joan Sullivan is a Canadian renewable energy photographer. Since 2009, Joan has found her artistic voice on the construction sites of utility-scale wind and solar projects. Her goal is to help others visualize – to imagine – what a post-carbon world will look like. Joan is currently working on a photo book about Canada’s energy transition. She also collaborates with filmmakers on documentary films that explore the human side of the energy transition. Her renewable energy photographs have been exhibited in group shows in Canada, the UK and Italy. You can find Joan on ElloTwitter and Instagram


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Ben’s Strategy blog: How we bring about change – Individuals, Organisations and Structures

‘Brave!’ That’s what a fellow theatre director said to me when I quit directing to work on setting up Creative Carbon Scotland. I have an idea they really meant ‘Stupid!’. Whether they’ve changed their mind I don’t know, but Creative Carbon Scotland is eight years old and the climate crisis is now on the agenda of the Scottish cultural sector in a way that it simply wasn’t when I started.

That responding to the climate crisis is now part of cultural organisations’ work and practitioners’ thinking isn’t just down to us, of course: society is much more aware of it overall and regulations, news stories and campaigns all make it part of the general discourse. It’s sometimes tricky to know whether our work has had much impact at all, and this is something we’re determined to get better at understanding with some work this month on how we go about doing so.

One area where we can be confident though is in our work with various strategic organisations where at least some of our work has paid off. Most obvious is the work with Creative Scotland – the main body distributing Scottish Government and National Lottery funds to the arts, screen and creative industries. Creative Scotland was interested from the start but climate change wasn’t top of their agenda – we needed to demonstrate that there was also interest within the sector. Even then it took some time for crucial elements to get started.

Creative Scotland had been discussing with us the idea of introducing carbon reporting for some organisations from 2012 or 2013, but it wasn’t until 2014 that they finally announced that Regular Funded Organisations (those arts organisations receiving funding for a three-year period) would need to start measuring and reporting their carbon emissions from 2015/16 onwards. The success of this meant that the always-planned next step – a formal way of planning to reduce carbon emissions rather than just measure them – was easy to introduce, and Carbon Management Planning began in 2018. That gives some idea of how long these things can take.

Creative Scotland is now taking big steps forward

But constant discussion and working closely with the staff there now means that Creative Scotland are thinking about how climate action can be integrated into the processes for other funding streams. This is a big step forward. In the autumn of 2018 I delivered training for most of the Lead Officers that have direct responsibility for the relationships with Regular Funded Organisations. In the past this sort of work has been more ad hoc: some years ago I provided some training for organisations which had received capital funding, but not directly for the staff involved. Next year we hope staff and funding recipients will start having training workshops together to share and develop their joint knowledge.

We are in discussion with Creative Scotland’s new film unit Screen Scotland to talk about how it should act on climate change. The BAFTA schemes Albert and Albert+ are already used by many producers when planning productions and we have supported BAFTA in providing Albert training in Scotland for some years, and this is now becoming more formalised.

Festivals, theatre and more

More recently we’ve extended our work with other strategic organisations. We’ve always been members of and provided specific advice to the Edinburgh Festivals’ Environmental Sustainability Working Group – the experience from that and work with a pilot group of theatre, dance and music organisations which were members of the Federation of Scottish Theatre informed our training work from the beginning. We’ve now done workshops with staff from both the Federation of Scottish Theatre and Youth Theatre Arts Scotland exploring how they can mainstream work on climate change, building it into their other work.

iOS – no, not that one

Why write about this now? Partly it’s to explain what I think of as our ‘Individuals, Organisations, Structures’ approach to bringing about change. As I touched upon in my last blog, Creative Carbon Scotland grew up in parallel with the Scottish Government’s development of the ISM Model which is their tool for bringing about ‘behaviour change’. The ‘ISM’ stands for Individual, Social, Material, and the following, taken from the ISM tool website, explains it well (as you’d expect…) and the image at the top of the page helps:

ISM brings together into a single figure the main factors from the three disciplines most concerned with understanding behaviour: behavioural economics, social psychology, and sociology. The factors are arranged into three contexts, symbolised by a head (the Individual) in a circle (the Social) in a square (the Material). Evidence from reviews of international behaviour change interventions suggests that lasting change requires action in all three contexts (Southerton et al, 2011).

The aim of the ISM tool is to move away from the focus on the individual and getting them to ‘change their behaviour’ and instead acknowledge the complex web of factors that lead to individuals acting in the ways that they do. Although I have some misgivings about it, rather than having any argument with the thinking behind it this is because I have found that in the demonstrations of it and reports I have heard of it being used, people still tend to end up focusing on the individual.

When Creative Carbon Scotland was developing, therefore, the ideas behind the ISM tool were in our minds. We realised that to bring about change in the cultural sector we needed in a parallel manner to bring about change in Individuals, Organisations and Structures. We needed to push on all three fronts at the same time, as the different levels act upon each other both upwards and downwards:

Diagram explaining Individual, Organisation and Structures interconnections and reliance on each other to create change.

Our work with Individuals includes the Green Tease and the Green Arts Initiative. Our work with Organisations includes the Carbon Reporting and Carbon Management Planning work we do with Creative Scotland and it also includes the Green Arts Initiative, which is about the organisations as much as the individuals who work in them. In our Structures work – which is the work I’ve been writing about above – we try to bring about change in the ‘rules’, formal and informal, which govern and affect the way organisations and indeed the whole of the cultural sector works.

One reason therefore for working with our partner strategic organisations is to mainstream those areas of work so that we can concentrate on the next steps. By helping them to integrate into their core work ideas and processes that we have tested and know work, we can clear some of our own time to focus on more strategic actions that will take us all to the next level.

More ambition, more change, now

But the other reason for writing about this now is because, just as the public awareness of climate change has increased, so has the urgency of the situation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) 1.5° Report last year, a recent paper suggesting that the oceans have been absorbing extra heat at the rate of 5 Hiroshima nuclear blasts per second, the fact that Scotland’s excellent progress on decarbonising the energy supply is masking our failure to reduce the harder areas like transport and agriculture: all these point to the need for more, faster action now. Those strategic organisations we already know, and others we want to engage with, need to get more ambitious in their climate action and we will help them do so.

top image: Image of ISM tool taken from A silhouette of a head inside a circle inside a square demonstrates the different domains of the Individual located within the social and the material

The post Ben’s Strategy blog: How we bring about change – Individuals, Organisations and Structures appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.


Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

Go to Creative Carbon Scotland

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Rising Waters

by Susan Israel 

During a period of professional transition, a random opportunity presented me with the chance to use public art to engage people on climate change – something I had wanted to do for several years. This first installation led to an ongoing project which, after five years of incremental growth, is about to jump scale and impact. As I look back, one take-away from this project is that one person with a vision and persistence can make a difference. Anyone who wants to have an impact, in any arena, should know that we are all change-makers. It takes heart, work, doggedness, supporters, and luck, but change does come from individual dedication combined with community. In fact, that is the only way that change happens – one action at a time. This is just one story out of many.

Rising Waters is a flood warning project where I put lines in the landscape with community participation to show where future flood levels will be. I began Rising Waters in 2013 as Rising Tides at HarborArts, an outdoor art venue in a shipyard and marina in East Boston, Massachusetts. After I was invited to participate in the group show Occupying the Present, curated by Elizabeth Michelman, I walked the site with no idea of what I would do. Having attended conferences about sea level rise, I kept wondering where the water would be in the future, and, as an architect, began imagining lines in the landscape marking future high tide lines. The rest was implementation. I painted a series of rising colored lines on the facing pier: six lines, one foot apart, to show that sea level rise is incremental, implying that we can stop at any point – if we have the will. I also created a message-in-a-bottle companion installation to spur people to think about their responses to sea level rise, and invited them to submit notes to the project which I posted on my website. 

Message-in-a-Bottle, HarborArts, East Boston, 2013

HarborArts led to Rising Waters installations in the Maverick MBTA subway station and Neighborhood Health Center in East Boston. Students from the East Boston Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) teen workforce program and younger students in an after-school program helped me make the window art. The artwork went up as a pointer to a storm preparedness event for the community and then remained for a month.  When we installed the artwork, the subway station managers told us it would be vandalized the first night, but it remained untouched until we removed it. T riders were proud of it, commenting on how beautiful it was, and were shocked to see where the water would be.

Rising Waters, University of Massachussets MBTA subway station, Boston, 2015

Next, I installed Rising Waters in six MBTA subway stations in Boston and Cambridge. The artwork was made and installed with participation from students in several public school districts, students at Harvard College, and community members. The students, particularly at Revere High School and Boston Latin, were excited to be part of a larger project and worked many afternoons after school, making the artwork with great care. Many students said they didn’t know about sea level rise until this project. At the Kendall MBTA Station in Cambridge, a station worker read the description, gasped, and then ran off. Every day tens of thousands of commuters passed by the artwork, reaching several hundred thousand people in all.

In 2015, I installed Rising Waters at the Sustainable Brands Conference in San Diego as fish stickers and flags. Since I couldn’t install ahead on the site, I added more fish between every session, growing the installation throughout the conference – it took on an aspect of performance art. Reaching corporations was important to me, and the installation caught the attention of dozens of people who asked about it out of 2,000 people from industry who saw it.

Rising Waters, Paradise Island, San Diego, 2015

By the end of 2016 I had installed Rising Waters over sixteen times – including on riverbanks, fencing, storefronts, a ferry dock, a beach, around trees, and even flowerbeds, in Eastern Massachusetts and in San Diego, California. I experimented with the right medium and format for each site and audience, using fish prints, fish flags, handprinted stickers, and various materials in search of the right combination of permanence, removability, and low environmental impact. Although the plastic film I used was reclaimed from the waste stream, I ultimately abandoned it as too conflicted a message for oceans. Ultimately, I returned to my original concept of simple lines with an installation on the Guna Yala (San Blas) islands off the coast of Panama.

The Guna indigenous tribe, who occupy this archipelago of 350 islands, will be flooded off their coral atolls by 2030, and will join the ranks of climate refugees from around the world. Flying over the rainforest in a 6-seater to reach these remote islands, with a suitcase full of supplies, knowing that I had to make this work regardless of what I found, was exciting. I had entered a new phase, though I didn’t know where it would lead me. This installation of Rising Waters showed the impending cultural destruction of a tribe who will be forced to leave their island lifestyle behind, and relocate to the mountains. Photographs from this installation were exhibited at the United Nations for The Ocean Conference in 2017. Being part of a global community working hard to tell the story of sea level rise and climate change made me redouble my own efforts.

Rising Waters, Guna Yala, Panama, 2017

Over time, Rising Tides became Rising Waters to include fresh water flooding from rivers and rain, and appeared along the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Caribbean Sea, and soon, South China Sea. With supporters in Hong Kong, we are establishing a Rising WatersChapter as the first of many around the world. I recently returned from Hong Kong where I worked with students and teachers at three schools who are launching the project. Renaissance College Hong Kong wrapped posts in their school courtyard, and additional sites will install in March. In student workshops at GT College and Hong Kong International School, I introduced the project and students worked on designing their own companion art projects. Chapters will be encouraged to localize their installations with companion events, artwork, performances, and educational materials and we are expanding our on-line educational resources by collaborating with other NGOs.

Other groups will be using Rising Waters as collaborations with their own climate advocacy projects this spring and summer, and we are always looking for additional partners. What began from my personal desire to visualize climate change impacts has become a method to launch other people on their own art, climate, and action path, empowering people to act on climate across the globe.

(Top image: Rising Waters, Maverick MBTA subway station, East Boston, 2013.)

See also Susan Israel’s previous article: Using Art to Empower Climate Action


After 20 years of practicing architecture, Susan Israel founded Climate Creatives to make environmental issues accessible to the public, empowering and inspiring people to take action. Previously, she was a Founder and Principal at studio2sustain, Energy Necklace Project, and Susan Israel Architects. She is a licensed Architect, a LEED AP, ArtWeek Advisor, and long-time member of the Harvard Alumni Association Board of Directors. Susan speaks at events nationally and internationally. She holds an A.B. from Harvard College, Master of Architecture from Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and attended the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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One Body, One World: The Arctic Reality

by Georgia Rose MurrayI am an artist and lecturer from Scotland, currently preparing to leave China, after running an International Postgraduate Art and Design Course at Sichuan Fine Arts Institute for a year.

I use the language of painting to explore the mystical reality of Northern landscapes. Given my interest in light and darkness, my research has led me to Iceland during a period of Polar Night, and to Svalbard to witness the Midnight Sun and a period of Twilight from the perspective of a Barquentine tall ship, sailing on the Arctic Ocean. My connection to the Arctic landscape is ongoing and the next stage of my research journey will involve witnessing the annual returning of light in the northernmost research community in the world, Ny Alesund.

Painting is essential in helping me decipher energies and in facilitating heightened states of awareness: symbiotically my conscious and subconscious selves gauge the magnitude of human existence within the universe. This forms the autobiographical baseline for my work.

Contributing to the language of painting via honest and visceral reactions to natural light and landscapes is fundamental to my research. Working amid the sacred Arctic landscape has inspired alchemical experiments involving grinding rocks to mix with non-chemical mediums to create ecologically sound pigments, which have been the elixir to significant paintings. Collaborating with Polar scientists during periods of Arctic research has also become central to my work and crucial to my awareness of geological and biological shifts within landscapes due to climate change.

The Antigua tall ship in bay with floating photograph of Chongqing City.

Most recently I spent three weeks sailing around the Svalbard Archipelago as a member of The Arctic Circle Autumn Residency. In late September 2018, I flew to Longyearbyen (Arctic Svalbard), after living in China for eight months and found the reality of transitioning between the two locations to be otherworldly.

Like many countries around the world, China – and more specifically, Chongqing, a growing city of 18 million people – provides an intense contrast to the Arctic landscape. Having felt the strength of both locations, my responsibility now is to share my first-hand experience of the Polar North with an audience who is geographically 4,000 miles away from the source.

Since returning to China in late October, I have been working in my studio to create ARCTIC CRACKING, a solo exhibition supported by The British Council and hosted by 501 Xu Space, which opened in Chongqing on the 12th of January. (Later in 2019, ARCTIC CRACKING will travel to additional venues in the UK. Check my website for details of the upcoming international tour.) The exhibition comprises a combination of paintings, photographs, films and sketchbooks, which were created both while physically immersed in the Arctic landscape and after returning to my Chinese studio.


ARCTIC CRACKING aims to transcend physical space and communicate the reality of the fragile North, highlighting our need to take responsibility for preserving not only the precious polar regions but the entire planet. Climate change is causing increasing atmospheric and ecological destruction, affecting many locations on both micro and macro levels.

The title of the exhibition refers to my experience of holistically cracking in the Arctic landscape and testing myself to the limit: Touching the edge of hypothermia with frozen, dysfunctional fingers, toes and a numbness which slowed both my physical and mental reactions. In order to completely feel the reality of the Arctic, I spent time walking through the snow and on top of glaciers with bare, exposed skin, and submerging my whole body, alongside icebergs, in the Arctic ocean. The title also refers to the reality of glaciers rapidly calving (cracking, breaking and crumbling, sending tidal waves rolling over the surface of the ocean) due to climate change.

The exhibition contains several scroll paintings made on rice paper, backed with silk. Chinese landscapes and Asian temples are depicted as spiritual havens becoming destroyed by pollution and human behavior. The importance of maintaining sacred structures (thousand-year-old glaciers and temples) as sacred places of worship is implied.

Georgia Rose Murray with “One Body” flag, standing on the northernmost tip of land before reaching the North Pole.

In the paintings, a dead tiger, swallows and migrating geese represent the creatures on land and in the ocean, which are struggling to survive due to climate change. I have consciously used the traditional Chinese painting format, with more contemporary materials, such as spray paint, to represent the changes our natural world is undergoing due to toxic carbon emissions.

In addition, using a metal box and painted flags (displaying “one world” and “one body” in Mandarin characters), I created performance films, which present one human body as a metaphor for the collective “body” of humanity. In the films, my “one body” arrives as a package into the sacred Arctic landscape, steps out of the box and is humbled by the reality. Aware of the responsibility to preserve the natural environments that we are privileged to be a guest in, the “one world” symbols act as metaphors for global unity.

Body, box performance with “One World” flag, 100-year-old bay.

The use of Mandarin characters in my work symbolizes my current connection to China and the color red acts as a metaphor for the pain inflicted on natural landscapes by the expansion of human environments.

A common response to the Arctic landscape is one of awe. A humbling awareness of our human insignificance dawns as we compare our fleeting existence to the ancient, organic, presence of the rest of the universe: Magnificent mountains, inspiring glaciers, gigantic bays, the dazzling Arctic Ocean, and the vast swirling sky above us. Despite our perceived irrelevance as individuals, the “one body” of humanity and its collective behavior is causing significant destruction to our “one world.”

My future research plans involve further investigations into the Polar North at varying times of year, collaborating with scientists while witnessing the changing Arctic reality and communicating about how to effectively convey the truth.

In mid-January, after finishing teaching the semester at Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, just prior to the Chinese New Year holiday, I set off to explore some additional Asian landscapes. First, I journeyed to Kathmandu and travelled around Nepal for one week, absorbing the fascinating and complex culture. The deep spiritual peace and intoxicating magic of the mountains was a massive contrast to some of the challenges (connected to poverty and female slavery) I witnessed in the cities.

ARCTIC CRACKING painting in progress in Chinese studio.

From Pokhara, I trekked to see incredible views of the Annapurna Himalayas at sunrise and sunset, and was lucky to be greeted with clear skies and snowy peaks kissed with pink light. Then I flew to the South West coast of Thailand, to think, draw and write, while enjoying the warm turquoise sea – a chance to process the vastly different locations and varying manifestations of climate change I have experienced this year.

Tomorrow I travel to the UK, to return to life in Scotland, where I will be within easy reach of the Arctic landscape.

(Top image: ARCTIC CRACKING painting in progress in Chinese studio.)


Georgia Rose Murray is a painter and lecturer from Scotland. Her paintings depict her fascination with the sublime effects of light and darkness on the natural landscape. Her holistic processes are guided by conscious and subconscious observations and by a visceral awareness of the mystical; the works explore our human existence on Earth in connection with the spirit world.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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Richard Bowman: Radiant Abstractions

Richard Bowman: Radiant Abstractions opened February 2nd at The Landing gallery in Culver City (Los Angeles), curated by Patricia Watts. Watts has been working with artists estates in the Bay Area since 2014 and has published a book on Bowman (1918-2001), a pioneering artist who decided in the early 1940s, while on a trip to Mexico, that he wanted to paint the elemental relationship between the earth and the cosmos. His first series, called Rock and Sun, was painted in a style inspired by Surrealist painters who resided in Mexico at the time, including Gordon Onslow Ford. He continued that series until 1950 when he became enthralled with early scientific imagery that was being published, such as cloud chamber photography visualizing the passage of ionizing radiation, and decided to combine abstract expressionism with scientific exploration. In 1973, he published an article in the MIT peer-reviewed academic journal Leonardo, describing his then twenty-three years of “Painting with fluorescent pigments of the Microcosm and Macrocosm.” He continued painting these works through the 1990s, for fifty years. Series titles included: Kinetograph, Macromicrocosmos, Kinetogenics, Environs, Dynamorph, and Synthesis. Radiant Abstractions will conclude on April 6, 2019.

Dynamorph 25, 1968,  acrylic and fluorescent acrylic on canvas,  51x 64 inches, Richard Bowman Estate


ecoartapace ecoartspace is a nonprofit platform providing opportunities for artists who address the human/nature relationship in the visual arts. Since 1999 they have collaborated with over 150 organizations to produce more than 40 exhibitions, 100 programs, working with 400 + artists in 15 states nationally and 8 countries internationally. Currently they are developing a media archive of video interviews with artists and collection of exhibitions ephemera for research purposes. Patricia Watts is founder and west coast curator. Amy Lipton is east coast curator and director of the ecoartspace NYC project room.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

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