Artists and Climate Change

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The Big Invisible

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

“One of the greatest legacies of the 20th century is not just population explosion or better living standards, but vastly raised carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. A new flag attempts to give this invisible gas, this international risk, an image, a way to represent itself. I like to think of it as a flag for a new kind of world order.” —John Gerrard, Artist

A hidden treasure, like many great treasures, is to be found on an unassuming, charming, and quiet square in Vienna’s 6th district. Peeking through the large windows on Loquaiplatz might reveal a beautiful minimalist studio where a flat screen shows a frog floating through space or a digital simulation of a flag of never-ending smoke – a haunting image that was presented earlier this year as a public art project in London, but developed here in the production space of media artist John Gerrard. While (still) hidden in Vienna, Gerrard’s work found international acclaim, securing the artist’s position as pioneer of new computer technologies and bringing urgent issues about nature, consumer culture, and power systems to art audiences. The flag of perpetual smoke depicts a dystopian and barren landscape – a simulation of the real site of the world’s first major oil find in Spindletop, Texas in 1901. Gerrard reimagines it as an unrelenting menace. It was presented in early 2017 as a multi-disciplinary public art intervention – online (YouTube), on TV (Channel Four) and at the heart of the European art establishment (Somerset House, London).

Gerrard is part of an international group of artists using their creativity to address the need for new structures in society. It has become clear that climate change is, at least in large part, a cultural problem – a direct consequence of our lifestyle and consumer behavior. But if we want to influence human behavior, we have to go beyond communicating the science of climate change, and this is exactly where the work of artists like Gerrard comes into play. Creative approaches to climate change speak to people on an engaging, emotional, human, and accessible level. Art and culture can be effective tools with which to advance new ideas, explore alternatives, and influence social norms.

To understand the framework of artists, curators, architects, designers, policymakers, and other arts professionals in Austria who engage with these issues, we established the Kunst Haus Wien’s inaugural Curator-in-Residence program. In early 2017, we conducted close to 50 interviews with key protagonists in Vienna, Graz, and Salzburg, and ran a weekly reading group with co-hosts and members of the public. Our research confirmed that the City of Vienna is acutely aware of, and making efforts to, engage with the international discourse on climate change. The Viennese art world, however, is only slowly waking up to the problem’s relevance and immediacy. Though we learned about many individual and institutional initiatives, we found there was limited knowledge exchange, interdisciplinary collaboration, and organizational partnership on the subject.

Interdisciplinary collaboration is known to spark innovation, but a big obstacle to art/science collaborations is language. The professional language of both the artist and the scientist has become so specialized that it requires an open mind and much patience on both sides to understand each other. One of our interviewees, Markus Schmidt, co-founder and director of Biofaction, a research and science communication company based in Vienna, put it this way:

“Artists and scientists speak in different languages. I work with artists because I’m interested in new perspectives that go beyond scientific insight. Science is a great tool to better understand the world, but the scientific method can also be limiting. Artists bring in different arguments, additional layers of meaning and help us to explore complimentary futures.”


Biofaction. Prototype Nature exhibition in Essen.

Another point that struck us was how people – even in the cultural and academic sectors – find it hard to relate to something that is not visible or immediately obvious in their own lives. As long as flooding and scarcity of resources (energy, food, water) are not part of the daily struggle, climate change remains an “alternative reality.” While this attitude is not unique to Austria, it is accentuated by the country’s protected and regulated position: it is land-locked, benefits from a stable social welfare system and access to alternative sources of energy, and still enjoys localized agricultural practices. The challenge of how to relate to latent natural forces led to our concept for The Big Invisible, an exhibition and public program we are presenting at the Kunst Haus Wien, October 19, 2017 – January 14, 2018.

The Big Invisible addresses five invisible forces that interact with us in subtle but powerful ways, and influence our potential for life and longevity on the planet. Though this may sound like a superhero story, the reality is less fantastical and cli-fi-esque: the exhibition confronts real-life issues such as viruses, air pollution, heat, nuclear radiation and an imaginary oil spill. The main question that is posed is: How do we relate to nature’s drastic changes if we cannot see, feel or hear the causes and directly experience the effects? The selected artworks offer a renewed understanding of the wonders of the natural world by using publicly accessible data and tools so that we may see, hear, touch and smell our environment in ways that go beyond what initially meets the eye. This sense of heightened awareness is crucial in times of environmental degradation, with artists playing an important role in making the issues visible.

Markus Hoffmann_Bikini Atoll Containment 02_2015_Artist

Markus Hoffmann. Bikini Atoll Containment 2015.

Artists probe and contextualize the status of current and potential environmental situations in different parts of the world, bringing new questions and knowledge into the conversation and opening up the imagination by engaging with the realm of the invisible. From the effects of radiation on coconuts on the Bikini Atoll to the Pepino Mosaic Virus on European tomatoes, the exhibition provides new insights into the invisible world around us, bridging art and citizen science.

(Top image: John Gerrard, Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas) 2017. Installation view, Somerset House, London. Photo: Damian Griffiths. Image courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery, London and Simon Preston Gallery, New York.)

About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Launching into Climate Action

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Climate Change Theatre Action 2017 is officially LAUNCHED! As of last Sunday, October 1st, communities and individuals around the world have started hosting events and conversations on climate, using this year’s curated collection of 50 short plays. The energy from these events is contagious – even though we can’t be at all 250 events, each one is sending a pulse into the world to persist in the face of corruption and apathy. That is inspiring.

On Sunday, we – Chantal Bilodeau and I – presented The New York Launch at The Artist Co-op, to kick-off this year’s global action and to celebrate local artists working on climate. The evening was full of quirky performances, and mingling between new faces and old friends. It was fascinating to see people of varying ages, from all over the city, come together, to support climate, performance, and community – and to raise funds for hurricane relief efforts in Houston. It definitely set the tone for what will be an energizing seven weeks!

As part of the Launch, I directed a few CCTA plays, and invited local artists to share some of their work on climate. We had a variety of performance genres, from artists of various backgrounds. It was serendipitous to see and hear how, through the performances, there was something for each and every audience member to connect to.


Brackendale by Elaine Ávila, with Megan Oots & Atiya Taylor. Credit: Yadin Photography.

The evening started off with comedy from Willie Zabar, who brought his character Heimi Wilhelm, the famous German musician and thinker. Using prompts from the audience, Heimi explained his positions on topics of nature using words and music. It was a fun, light, interactive way to start the evening, and directly engage everyone in the room. Upstream Artists’ Collective also engaged audiences directly, breaking down our broken socio-political systems, by inviting an audience member to literally break a chair. After a collective brainstorm on how to best break the wooden chair, a gray-haired woman in the front row jumped up to make it happen: she smashed that IKEA chair until it was in building-block form. It was goofy and experimental, with immediate implications: the audience member sitting in the wooden chair lost her seat, the chair was rendered un-sit-able, the audience rallied behind the woman pulling apart the chair.


Upstream Artists’ Collective. Credit: Yadin Photography.

I’ve felt this kind of energy before, the energy of individuals rallying together, overtly or subconsciously, for a singular purpose. It was similar to the energy I’ve felt during marches and while watching some of my favorite shows. This energy continued throughout the night, as The Anthropologists and Lynn Neuman of Artichoke Dance Company performed. The Anthropologists presented an excerpt from their upcoming This Sinking Island, which features text, movement, and music performed by a small ensemble. With their blue fabrics and plastics, the ensemble transported us to a place surrounded by water. Lynn also transported us, juxtaposing rustling plastic bags and recorded instrumentals by Mike Sayre. Her piece Precipice evoked at once the experience of plastics, and of organisms and places implicated in the consumption of plastics. So, even though our evening took place in one room, the performances transported us, collectively, to alternate times and places.


Lynn Neuman in Precipice. Credit: Yadin Photography.

Threaded through the entire evening were the CCTA plays: Brackendale by Elaine Ávila, Rube Goldberg Device for the Generation of Hope by Jordan Hall, Single Use by Marcia Johnson, Kleenex by David Paquet, and Magical Vagina by Catherine Léger. What I found in delving into these short plays is depth. It is amazing how many layers can be packed into a five-minute play or monologue. My collaborators and I delighted in the playwrights’ varying perspectives on human-induced climate change. In duologues like Brackendale, Rube Goldberg…, and Magical Vagina, we found examples of dichotomous ways of dealing with climate realities: unshakeable hope, or dire pessimism. These two approaches manifest through the varying circumstances of each play, leaving room for audiences to place themselves on the spectrum: with enough pessimism to feel the urgency, and enough hope to do something about it.

Through Rube Goldberg… in particular, audiences were required to do something. Nearing the end of the Launch, two performers, Atiya Taylor and Megan Oots, set up a Rube Goldberg Device with the audience, passing out instructions on slips of paper. Each instruction was contingent on something happening before, prompted by a different instruction given to another audience member. Ultimately, the whole sequence should lead to a dance party. Atiya, Megan, and I had rehearsed the play, and I could see and feel how the Rube Goldberg Device could work, but the circumstances of the evening led the Device down an unexpected path. Some audiences were so eager to follow their instruction that they couldn’t wait until the required prompt. Many audience members were confused, but by the time the dancing started, they were good sports and joined in. From this experiment, I learned how to set up circumstances as clearly and simply as possible to then allow for the audience to build the Device, to contribute to chaos. Nonetheless, it was wonderful to see the audience shamelessly participate in breaking the traditions of what a play is or should be.


Rube Goldberg Device for the Generation of Hope by Jordan Hall. Credit: Yadin Photography.

The evening culminated in a Skype call to Toronto, who was starting their Launch event as ours was winding down. We introduced the New York and Toronto playwrights present at each event, and virtually passed on the baton. It was brief, but effectively broke the New York bubble, and placed our Launch more tangibly within the context of something way larger. Before we parted, Ryan Little Eagle Pierce, who performed “Eagle Warrior,” a piece of poetry set to movement describing one American’s transition into his Lenape roots, brought a vital context to our event, acknowledging the traditional caretakers of the land that Manhattan is now on, the Lenape people. Ryan helped us to connect our care for our environment to our care for one another, effectively tapping into everyone’s compassion for the new and old friends we all shared the evening with.


“Eagle Warrior,” written and performed by Ryan Little Eagle Pierce. Credit: Yadin Photography.

Take Action
It’s not too late to join CCTA. Check out our Call for Collaborators and host a gathering in your own community, NOW through November 18!
New York City: It’s the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. March to remember, rise, and resist at the Climate March on October 28.

More CCTA!
I was recently on the Let’s Talk About the Weather podcast, with Ashley Mazanec of EcoArts Foundation. Listen here, for more about CCTA!  Visit for all the upcoming events this season, and to learn how to host your own.

(Top image: The Anthropologists. Credit: Yadin Photography.)


About Artists and Climate Change:

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

A Love Affair With Glaciers

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Elise Wagner is a painter, printmaker, and teacher based in Portland, Oregon. Her initial captivation with the geology and majestic beauty of the Pacific Northwest lead her to obtain a Bachelor of Science Degree at Portland State University. She studied painting, sculpture, art history, printmaking, geology, physics and environmental biology, which wove into what would become the conceptual fabric of her work. Making the Pacific Northwest her home base has continually nurtured her lifelong creative pursuits.

Elise agreed to answer a few questions for Artists & Climate Change about her newest body of work, focused on receding glaciers. Climate Charts, her solo exhibit, will be on display at the Butters Gallery, Ltd. in Portland, Oregon through October.

The artist in her studio. Photo by Rebekah Johnson Photography.

What was the inspiration for your Glacier series? 

About five years ago, I saw the documentary Chasing Ice featuring nature photographer James Balog. Through his Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) project, he and his team created a multiyear photographic chronicle of the planet’s rapidly melting glaciers. The time-lapse photographs that Balog’s cameras captured of the receding glaciers are riveting.

Soon after seeing the film, then seeing it again, and again, I set up Google alerts to receive updates of glacier images from NASA, the National Geologic Survey, and the International Space Station. Concepts develop in my work gradually at somewhat of a glacial pace. It took a few years of observing for this work to manifest. As my knowledge of glacier geology deepened, I became fascinated with glaciers’ beauty, colors, and formations, and by the stunning and rapid transformation of the glacial landscape.

My work has always addressed the duality between the human impulse for order and the indifference of nature. I am drawn to all kinds of subjects like physics, astronomy, meteorology, geology and geography, satellite technology, and climate science.

I have a passion for that incomprehensible gap that lies between art and science. This has always intrigued me and fed my imagination, and has resulted in me spending much of my creative pursuits on bringing the two together. Unlike science, art looks at the world through an aesthetic lens that encompasses the emotional, ethereal, and the sublime. Science, on the other hand, is rational, measured, and quantifiable, but it gives art a context. This merging of art and science helps us understand nature in a broader sense.

The last time that ice and glaciers were so present in the popular imagination was during the age of polar exploration, over a hundred years ago. Now that these elements are resurfacing, how do you think they are shaping our consciousness?

The recent devastation caused by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria are enough to make your head spin – how could their link to global warming NOT shape our consciousness? My family is in Houston, as is one of my galleries, Gremillion Fine Art. Luckily, they are all blessed and safe on higher ground. Add to that the enormous forest fires that occurred simultaneously in California and my home state of Oregon, where over 42,000 acres of our beloved Columbia River Gorge recently burned. Unseasonably hot summers leading to drought, combined with rising ocean temperatures, are to blame for such devastation and are the direct result of the glaciers melting in the Antarctic, Greenland, Alaska, and South America.

The Larsen C. Ice Shelf, on the southern tip of Antarctica, was until recently the largest ice shelf in existence. In 2002, the Larsen C. was found to have what was to become a two-mile long crack in its surface. In July of 2017, a metric trillion-ton iceberg the size of Delaware, the largest iceberg in history, broke off the ice shelf. The day after this shocking news broke, I was looking at my painting in progress and decided to draw the map of Delaware in my sketchbook. To my astonishment, the shape of Delaware had already subconsciously emerged in the surface of the painting. How’s that for shaping ones consciousness?

There is a map-like quality to your work in general. Is that intentional?

Short answer, yes. Working in the abstract realm, I have always approached painting as if I am laying down a map to an unknown or unseen territory. Abstraction in itself is about finding one’s way in an unknown territory. My work draws upon science, the celestial, and the sublime within a cartographic construct. My painting titles often refer to cartographic, scientific, or solar terms like “Celestial Legend,” “Atom Transits,” or “Solar Flare.”

I work in encaustic, an ancient painting medium that combines natural beeswax, resin, and pigment. It is the oldest known pigment binder, dating as far back as 23 B.C. With it, I have discovered ways to layer and manipulate the medium to create surfaces that match my subject matter and my visual intentions. More specifically, I developed a way to trap air in the wax and create surfaces that mimic geological terrain. My process is very methodical, allowing for spontaneity in both its direction and the alchemy of the materials. I mix specifically hued glazes and colors to achieve depth of surface, line, and transparency.

As the work developed, I studied the colors of glacial ice and began thinking about the duality in my materials. I recognized a paradox in what I was attempting to achieve. Subconsciously, I was using hot wax to create glacial ice terrains and formations. My reliance on alchemy and chance occurrences in my materials unites elements of hot and cold, and mimic the transformative impact of temperature on our planet. This first piece became the centerpiece for my show Climate Charts.

Glacier Stream 1. Photo by Rebekah Johnson Photography.

From this piece, I created graphite rubbings of its texture onto tracing paper. I then transferred those graphite rubbings onto a warm cobalt-turquoise encaustic surface to create a series of twelve 10 x 7.5 works. While attempting to walk my dog and not fall after a late 2016 snow and ice storm that crippled the city of Portland, I was stunned to see the resemblance between air trapped under the ice outside and my series of paintings. This reaffirmed for me how I am achieving reproducing the actual in nature through the various abstract approaches I take with creating art. From this series of small works, I was inspired to scale up five times and create three 55” x 42”s.

Glacier Charts 1-12, 10 x 7.5 inches each. Photo by Rebekah Johnson Photography.

What is the single most important thing artists can do to address the problem of climate change?

Understand that their impact lies not only in what they express, but in the materials they choose to express it with. For example, I am hyper aware of the fact that the wax I use is a limited resource produced by a rapidly dwindling bee population. Wax is impervious to moisture, thereby giving encaustic paints an eternal shelf life. Unlike oil paints, they don’t dry out, and require no solvents. I am also a printmaker and I exclusively use non-toxic soy and, maybe not coincidentally, honey-based inks.

Glacier Stream 2. Photo by Rebekah Johnson Photography.

What gives you hope?

These times of social, political, and environmental upheaval have forced me to re-examine my creative intentions. Now more than ever, I feel a growing need to express what is happening globally and shape it through my work. I am not a scientist, nor do I have the luxury of world travel or polar exploration to conceive of my work, but our technological age gives me access to information. The ability to continue learning through such means gives me hope – it is one of the more positive aspects of the global sphere. It also means we can form global communities and become psychically connected to each other.

Ultimately, my hope lies in humanity, in the power of community, and in rallying for what is right and true. We are all human beings, each of us with the same capacity to grow our consciousness, to take action, and to continue learning and breaking the barriers that divide us. We can only save our planet through unity, choice, willingness, understanding, love, and compassion.

(Top image: Detail from Glacier Chart 4.)

About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Imagining Water, #2: Flooded McDonald’s

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

The second in a year-long series on artists who are making the topic of water a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances and publications that are popping up in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme.


Flooded McDonald’s

Although created nine years ago by the Danish three-man art collective Superflex, the haunting film Flooded McDonald’s is every bit as relevant today, if not more so, as we recall with horror the recent television coverage of unprecedented water damage caused by mega-hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean. Just 21 minutes in length, Flooded McDonald’s was produced by Propeller Group (Ho Chi Minh City) in association with Matching Studio (Bangkok), and co-produced by the South London Gallery, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Denmark) and Oriel Mostyn Gallery (Wales).


Superflex, founded in 1993 by Bjornstjerne Christiansen, Jakob Fenger, and Rasmus Nielsen, calls their art projects “tools” that they feel can be used in many ways and in many contexts beyond the art world. As they describe it, Superflex “challenges the role of the artist in contemporary society and explores the nature of globalization and systems of power… with art work that addresses serious social and cultural concerns.” In Flooded McDonald’s, Superflex has taken on the topic of rising tides, a now-uncontested result of global warming, using a life-size replica of a McDonald’s restaurant that gradually floods with water. The British art critic Charles Darwent summarized the film by stating: “Imagine if a rising tide caused by global warming claimed the very thing that contributed to it.”

The Set

The set of Flooded McDonald’s was created in meticulous detail over a two-week period in an empty swimming pool in Bangkok, Thailand. Eerily devoid of staff or customers, it includes a fiberglass, life-size Ronald McDonald, real Big Macs, counters, freezers, banquettes, hundreds of paper cups, cardboard hamburger containers, fries, sodas, napkins, trays, signage and all the accoutrements of the real thing. For 21 minutes, the restaurant is gradually flooded with 80,000 liters or 21,000 gallons of water.


Still image from the film Flooded McDonald’s. Courtesy of Superflex.

What Happens

At first, the water seeps in slowly under the door. The accompanying sound track is similar to the sound of the gentle lapping of the sea against the shore. Gradually, the level of the water rises, taking with it everything in its path. But even as the rising water fills the space, the scene is not what we expect of a forceful, full-fledge flood. As Superflex describes it, the film portrays a flood that is “destructive but in a mild, Scandinavian way.”

Although the artists admit that they scripted most of the shots for the film, in the end, the water “does what it wants,” creating unexpected and sometimes ironic images: the fiberglass sculpture of Ronald McDonald topples over and waves to the camera, bringing to mind the iconic image of Saddam Hussein’s statue, arm upraised, crashing to the ground in Baghdad and marking the end of an era; a plastic sign reading “wet floor” floats by, an understated reference to the way in which many government leaders have purposely underestimated the dangers of global warming.


Production image from the film Flooded McDonald’s. Courtesy of Superflex.

The random beauty amidst the destruction is evident throughout the film. With its ability to reflect what is above and below the surface, water is its own work of art. Camera shots taken underwater reveal a murky world where oil, French fries, paper debris, bits of food, and even furniture form pleasing shadows and abstract images.


Still underwater image from the film Flooded McDonald’s. Courtesy of Superflex

So What Does It All Mean?

In a video titled Why We Flooded McDonald’s, created by the Louisiana Channel, a non-profit website based at the Louisiana Museum of Art in Humlebaek, Denmark, the Superflex artists “walk” the viewer through the film and talk about their artistic intentions.

In their narration, the artists describe the film as an “end of the world scenario,” a “conversation” on global warming that uses the most famous fast-food chain in the world as a powerful symbol of corporate greed and consumerism. In what to me is a brilliant metaphor for climate change in general and rising tides in particular, they state that “when you add water, you can’t move backwards from what it does.” Like climate change itself, once unleashed, flood water destroys everything in its path.

In preparation for writing this post, I sent an email to Superflex asking them how they feel about the film nine years later. I received the following response: “Flooded McDonald’s hints at the consumer-driven power and influence and impotence of large multinational companies in the face of climate change, questioning with whom ultimate responsibility lies.”

Where to see Flooded McDonald’s

If you are lucky enough to live in the Los Angeles area, you can watch the film at UCLA’s Hammer Museum through October 15. Otherwise, check out the Louisiana Channel video Why We Flooded McDonald’s for film clips and commentary by the artists or watch a brief film clip here.

(Top image: Still image from the film Flooded McDonald’s. Courtesy of Superflex.)


About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Harvesting Human Energy

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Calling all dancers! Ballet, jazz, tango, ballroom, Zumba, breakdance, tap, disco, swing, line, hip-hop, pogo, calypso, square dance, cha cha, jerkin’…

You are an incredible source of untapped renewable energy!

Each footstep, each cabriole, each moonwalk, each jerk produces kinetic energy. This kinetic energy can be transformed into electricity to light up the stage upon which you dance, to power the audio system in your theatre, to charge the LED lights in your dressing room, or even to feed into the larger grid.

The Dutch company Energy Floors has created the world’s first dance floor that harvests human energy. Welcome to the Anthropocene.

Power Of Dance (by Vice UK) from Energy Floors on Vimeo.

By “making energy fun”, Energy Floors is committed to raising awareness about energy production and consumption (note: we humans can do both!) in a way that is interactive, tangible and more accessible than, say, remote utility-scale solar or wind farms or hydroelectric dams.

“When you install an energy floor,” explained Energy Floors CEO Michel Smit to CNBC, “then the public is part of the solution, they are part of the energy contribution of that location, which makes them much more involved.” According to the company’s website, “We believe that consciousness about energy and the impact we have on it are the main conditions to create a sustainable world.”

renewable energy, dance, floors, energy

Photo courtesy of Energy Floors

Energy Floors wants people to understand the simple fact that “energy is everywhere” – it just needs to be harvested. Think about this: the average person takes about 150 million steps in a lifetime. “That’s a lot of steps, right?” says Sylvia Meijer-Villafane, Director of Marketing & Communication for Energy Floors. ‘Now multiply that by the billions of people on the planet. Harnessing all that kinetic energy and converting it into electricity creates an incredible opportunity to ensure access to sustainable energy for people across the world. Adding solar panels [starting October 2017] to our energy tiles makes this opportunity even more worthwhile.”

Energy Floors is not the only company experimenting with “smart floors” – UK’s Pavegen and Italy’s Veranu focus primarily on the built environment, with installations across the globe. But Energy Floors was the first start-up to promote the concept that human dancing is a potential source of renewable energy.

How does this technology work? The floor tiles produced by these companies convert the small vertical movement of human footsteps/dancesteps into a very high rotational motion (on the order of 1,000s of rpm) that drives a tiny internal generator to produce off-grid electricity. More movement, more energy; more dancers, more electricity generated. A diagram is provided in the following video beginning at 00:48.

Theoretically, almost anything could be powered through the simple act of a human footstep, multiplied hundreds of thousands times per day in heavy foot-traffic areas such as train stations, airports, museums, sports arenas, movie theaters, music festivals and exercise studios. As it turns out, there is a huge opportunity for harvesting human energy.

To date, renewable energy headlines are dominated by wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric power. But human-powered renewable energy will surely become a “thing” in the not-too-distant future. There are many applications already. For example micro windmills – 1/15 of an inch wide – embedded into our clothing can generate electricity from the kinetic energy produced when we swing our arms or legs by walking, biking, running or dancing.

micro, wind, turbine, micro windmill, renewable, energy, kinetic

A micro-windmill is pictured on the face of a penny.

Alors on danse!

About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Imagining Water

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Introduction to the Series, Imagining Water

This post is the first in a year-long series on artists who are making the topic of water a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances and publications that are popping up in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme. Why are so many artists and institutions concurrently recognizing the relevance of this subject matter? Primarily because dramatic water events are occurring at a rapid pace all over the globe, and artists – who generally have a pulse on the most contemporary global trends – are feeling compelled to respond to the immediacy of climate change and its threat to our very existence through their paintings, poetry, plays, novels, dances, films, music and installations.

Some examples from just the last four months demonstrate the prevalence of catastrophic events related to water or the extreme absence thereof: (1) As of April 2017, almost 11 million individuals in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are suffering from extreme hunger – the effects of a severe drought, which has shriveled crops and caused a critical humanitarian disaster; (2) a huge iceberg the size of the state of Delaware and weighing a trillion metric tons, broke away from Antarctica on July 12, 2017, threatening the stability of the entire ice shelf; (3) a few weeks later in July, and perhaps of more significance to the problem of rising sea levels, a chunk of ice the size of three Manhattans broke free in the Arctic, providing a “worrying sign” for what, according to Laurence Dyke, a researcher at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, says is “happening in the rest of Greenland;” and (4) unprecedented flooding caused by intense and sustained rain in the amount of 50 inches in some areas of Houston, Texas, is devastating the fourth largest city in the U.S., today, as I am writing this piece.

As a painter and public artist, I have been engaged since 2011 with the topic of water, its impressive power, its potential for causing global conflict, and how it serves to unite us all through our mutual need for this crucial resource. Imagining Water, #1, the first installment of this series on water, addresses The Wave, my own on-going, public art project on water.

What is The Wave?

The Wave is a national, interactive, public art project celebrating water and its vital function in our lives, which I co-created with my close friend and fellow artist, Elena Kalman. Since September of 2011, The Wave has been installed in 23 museums, galleries, schools, universities, community centers, festivals and parks including: The Peabody Essex Museum (Salem, MA); The National Aquarium (Baltimore, MD); The Rose Kennedy Greenway (Boston, MA); The Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford, CT); The Manny Cantor Center (NYC); Governor’s Island (NYC); The New Britain Museum of American Art (New Britain, CT); and others.

The Wave at National Acquarium.JPG

The Wave at the National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD

Origins of the Project

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.03 earthquake, centered in Japan, triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 133 feet and shifted the Earth on its axis a distance estimated between 4 and 10 inches. The ensuing tsunami devastated the island country, leaving millions of people without homes, electricity, and clean water and triggering nuclear meltdowns in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Waves resulting from the tsunami traveled across the Pacific Ocean, reaching the coastal areas of California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and western Alaska.

Here, in Connecticut, Elena and I began imagining a picture of that powerful 2011 tsunami in Japan literally “connecting” us all to one another: this enormous wave originating across the world and traveling from continent to continent before washing up on our own “back door.” We talked about developing a project that would visually represent how dramatically we are all connected, regardless of our nationality, religious preferences, race or other artificial divisions, by our mutual dependence on water – one of the most fundamental requirements for life on Earth – and by our mutual susceptibility to the impact of major water events like tsunamis, rising tides, floods and drought.

The Wave as Public Art

During our conversations, we discussed an appropriate format for the project, which we eventually dubbed The Wave. Because we wanted to emphasize the universal nature of water, our individual and community responsibility to protect this vital resource, and the theme of “connected-ness,” we felt very strongly that it needed to be a community engagement, interactive, public art program.

Public art is generally described as any work that is exhibited, and sometimes created, in public spaces so that it is accessible to the general public, not just those who frequent museums and galleries. We chose to create a public art project because, by its very purpose, public art is meant to enrich communities, provoke discussion, and heighten awareness of significant public issues and events. An interactive, public art project enables members of the community, not just the artists, to participate in the creation of the work of art itself. Interactive public art inspires creativity among participants around a specific topic, generates community pride and fosters connections among the participants.

The Wave Participants.jpeg

Wave Participants, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT

The Wave Design

We designed The Wave with these goals in mind. Because the material we use (recyclable, polycarbonate film) is especially unusual, enticing and beautiful, and because it is so easy to simply cut a piece of it into a wave-like shape, each individual coming to a Wave site can feel successful. Thousands of children as young as five, entire school communities including parents, staff, teachers and students of all abilities and ages, adults who are normally intimidated by making art, and seniors, have all embraced the opportunity to “connect” their pieces to the growing, glowing, and undulating Wave that we hope will roll right across the country and beyond. People have asked us why we join the pieces together with black parachute cord that shows up so prominently as an integral part of the installation. Why not use transparent fishing wire or some other invisible material? And, of course, that is the point. We are using the black cord to emphasize how this Wave is being created, piece by piece, connecting individuals, communities, states and, hopefully, an entire nation, to one another.

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Wave Participant, New London Public Library, New London, CT

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Wave Participants, National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD

For more information on The Wave, including hundreds of photographs of all the installations to date, resources for teachers on water issues, and my own blog entitled “On Water and Public Art,” please visit The Wave website.

(Top image: The Wave at the Chase Gallery, West Hartford, CT.)

About Artists and Climate Change:

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

In Conversation with Food

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Last month, I put my food play up onstage in its most fully produced iteration. Even though I had heard it aloud in front of an audience before, I didn’t really know what was going to happen. That’s the beauty of theatre, right? We never really know. But I had expectations, anxieties, hopes. I hoped audiences would connect with the piece, with the issues, with moments in a personal and political way. I hoped they would tell someone in their lives about the experience. I hoped everyone would have a good time.

Logo graphic design by Lucy Ressler.

For the most part, it felt like everyone – audiences and actors – did indeed have a good time. But in the weeks since, I’ve been ambivalent about UPROOT’s effectiveness. How does my play fit into a world where tragedies like the violence in Charlottesville and disasters like tropical storm Harvey are coursing through news media and every-day conversation? I consider this because I hold my processes and work to a socio-political standard, because myself and my collaborators and my work do not exist in a vacuum. Stepping back, I’m considering some of the moments of UPROOT that held particular socio-political resonance.

Over the past decade, I’ve been consuming various food documentaries and writings, which expose another side of the food industry not seen in the restaurants and stores where we actually get our food. These investigations have directly informed my food play, in which I raise questions about where our food comes from and how we in Western society got to be disconnected from those sources. I attempt to address metaphysical ideas in a pedestrian mode, through anthropomorphized foods, and utilizing multiple theatrical conventions. I use group scenes and two-handers and monologues and movement because I want to tear down the artifice of theatre. I am not looking for audiences to have an emotional catharsis by the end of the show: I am looking for audiences to feel a collective energy, to be ready to share their thoughts and questions with others. Not that these are mutually exclusive, but I personally prefer to circumvent and reutilize theatrical conventions to more aptly make space for dedicated conversation around pressing issues.

UPROOT, August 22, 2017. Photo by Ran Xia.

What I found in making a play about food is that I naturally took a route of exploration through words. I used my characters and their circumstances as a vehicle to explore my own ideas about food in America – a very particular Western, privileged culture. My food characters grappled with the existential questions that I ask my peers and myself on a regular basis: What is our purpose? Where do we have control? How do we have agency? In thinking about food, I think about existence, and thus, these broad, human questions arise.

The play also had moments without dialogue – moments between the lines, music, movement. My favorite element was the movement sequence in which the foods go through their physical life at the opening up of the grocery store. Choreographed by my collaborator Tyler Thomas, the store-opening movement sequence encapsulated the experience of a hectic grocery store from the foods’ perspectives. Without words, this part of the play opened up room for interpretation, but was also clear enough – with sounds of price-checkers and cash registers – for the audiences to identify and track the story. This sequence was fun, fast-paced, participatory, and provocative. It brought a new level of energy into the room, and I realize now that it needed a reprise, another offering of action between the lines.

UPROOT, August 22, 2017. Photo by Ran Xia.

This production had double the instances of audience interaction as the staged reading. This came most prominently in the form of audiences receiving things – coupons, snacks, resource sheets. Breaking the convention of the fourth wall in this way suggests to me that I take my play out of a conventional theatre space altogether, so that I might better position audiences to participate. At the same time, I am accustomed to the traditions and boundaries of theatres, and will remain interested in forging new dynamics and practices within such spaces. It was exciting to de-formalize theatrical norms, and I was pleased by the audiences’ receptiveness to the direct-engagement moments, when the house lights turned dimly on and the actors crossed into the seats, to either ask questions or pass out something.

At one point, the actors pass out coupons, to be “redeemed later.” About forty minutes later, they cross back into the audience to receive these coupons in exchange for one of two snacks: carrots or Cheetos. I could not have expected the responses – some audiences were disappointed in their snack, some were guilty at feeling disappointed, some were content with food of any form. While the snacks are being passed out, one actor tells the story of a town with different neighborhoods. One neighborhood has substantial economic resources, the other does not. I chose the snack types on impulse – carrots, a literal and symbolic fresh food, for the neighborhood with means; Cheetos, an epitome of processed, packaged food, for the neighborhood without. Audiences clicked into similar connotations: Cheetos are cheap, everyone is supposed to want to eat their vegetables, we aren’t supposed to eat the highly-processed fake-cheese crunchy goodness. I didn’t expect such excitement or aversion to one food or the other, or the degree of consideration that landed amongst audiences at this scene. It felt satisfying.

I was particularly excited about the post-show conversation on the first performance night. As a frequent theatre-maker and go-er, I am apt to steer away from such very hit-or-miss experiences as a talkback. But given the universal need to eat, audiences stuck around to hear from our panelists – Onika Abraham from Farm School NYC, Ashley Rafalow from CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute, and Benjamin Sacks from the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University – who localized the issues in the play, and spotlighted the people working on them. Our panelists broadened the topic of food and food justice, and hit on the intersectionality of the food movement, which cross-cuts immigration, workers’ rights, and trade.

I will continue to develop UPROOT, to write and edit, and to talk about food. Through this production process, I’ve felt that the topics and themes I want to hit upon, the vision I have for what role my art can play in society, both encompasses and transcends words (especially in the English language). In this way, I will continue to involve actors and audiences and experts in the development of UPROOT, to cultivate communities, and to usher in the spirit of a sustainable and equitable future for all.

UPROOT, August 22, 2017. Photo by Ran Xia.

Take Action
Donate to the Houston Food Bank to support victims of Harvey.
New York City has a primary mayoral election coming up. Know who’s on the ballot, and where they stand on issues of immigration, workers’ rights, and other justice issues.

About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Biophilia and Beauty

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Over the last three years, I have sought to develop work in new ways in order to offer an alternative discourse to the overwhelming pessimism of climate change debates. Taking my artwork out of the frame, and then off the wall, into three dimensional installations, and ultimately short films, has allowed me to explore original and diverse forms of artistic expression.

My journey started in 2009, following a year as Artist in Residence at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, where I exhibited a series of 27 mixed media drawings featuring extinct and endangered plants. Since then, I have continued to explore ways of communicating the escalating impact of climate change, while trying to reinforce that appreciating the beauty of nature – biophilia – is a necessary need for all people.

I was able to integrate a lifelong passion for meditation and mindfulness into my work as it evolved, and this has presented an opportunity to draw not just from the knowledge of the scientists I worked with at the Royal Botanic Garden, but from recent studies in neuroscience and ecopsychology, about how the brain constructs emotional responses which flow through the body.

Living Fossils: The Shape of Loss (series), Drawn Thread, Australian National University, Canberra, 2017. Drawings of cross sections of fossil wood on cut paper backgrounds symbolizing urban environments and maps.

I sought not only to represent the plants’ precious beauty, but to explore how plants can heighten our abilities to feel and connect with nature. My work seeks to bring this sensibility into galleries and other spaces in less conventional ways. It aims to enhance our ability to reconnect with our own nature, and to reflect on potential loss, explored through the incidental and concomitant beauty found in Herbarium collections, and in the wild.

The first of these new experiments was selected in 2016 for the “Future Stratigraphy” exhibition at the Sydney College of the Arts, Sydney University. The Archaeology of Absence featured drawings of endangered plants in free floating circles and cut paper pieces, across the length of a three meter-long wall.

As a passionate educator, I also wanted to be involved with the community in Sydney. This led me to take part in The Big Anxiety Festival, where I will present a large scale solo exhibition, Art + Nature: Antidotes to Anxiety, and conduct two drawing workshops, hosted at the Fisher Library and the Royal Botanic Garden.

Recent surveys and statistics suggest that an increasing number of people are disengaged from the issue of global warming, and actively avoid thinking about it. Yet the human species needs to be integrated with nature more than ever before. Research in biophilia and ecopsychology continues to provide us with evidence of the positive impacts that being connected with nature – and seeing images of nature – can bring, to both our physical and mental health.

Requiem (Red) showing details of one of three large glass vitrines. The exhibition was distributed across three floors of the Fisher Library, Sydney University, 2017. Red sections relate to The Red List summary of endangered species, and the pressed branches in the foreground are from the critically endangered Eucalyptus Copulans tree.

The first series of works in “Future Stratigraphy” featured free floating circles, the second an installation in the Fisher Library, and the third series used scanned images of my drawings to create a visual meditation and narrative in two short films co-created with Margaret McHugh. The first film was called “Micrographia” and the second, “Deposition Lines.” Both films used soundscapes and combined real images of endangered plants with the drawings. They integrated cut paper layers, changing focal points, alternating light sources, and other visual devices to evoke a calm, meditative experience.

Recent studies have shown that looking at images of nature for as little as five minutes provides health benefits such as reduced blood pressure, increased immune response, and lower depression and anxiety. We are not separate from nature; we are nature. Exploring plant images through artwork, and extending their reach, can provide a way of creating emotional empathy, as a type of touchstone to bring us back to ourselves.

We need antidotes to the negativity of climate change – and nature is ready, and waiting for us.

(Top image: Micrographia, still, at 0.09 in video. The layering in this drawing was inspired by the writing and research of Rachel Carson, in the 1962 book Silent Spring.)


Emma Robertson researches developments in creative thinking processes, exploring the relationships between words, objects and memory in mixed media drawings, installations and bookworks. She is an Associate Professor at UNSWAD and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, London. Emma has exhibited in eight countries, and her prize-winning artwork is held in seven international public collections. For her current PhD practice-based research at Sydney University, she has extended her previous Artist in Residence work with scientists at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, to explore new ways of communicating about the impact of climate change on rare and endangered Australian flora.

About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Recipe for Change

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

What is your favorite food? Not your special-occasion favorite, but your everyday, go-to favorite thing to eat. Are you picturing it? The form it comes in, the smell, the temperature, the flavor. Zoom out on that picture. What’s the context? Where you eat the food, how you eat it, the place you get it from. Zoom out a little further. The place where you get this food from: where does the food come from before that? Can you visualize it? Is the image blurrier now? Maybe not, maybe it’s clear as day. But you see how this sequence could go on and on, so that at some point, the link between you and the food you eat is muddled. I am interested in this sequence, this telescoping through the lens of what we eat and where it comes from. I situate my thoughts on food alongside my theatrical processes, as I pose questions about our relationships to one another and to our natural environment.

At this time three years ago, I was composing my undergraduate thesis production. With this play, GAIA: an eco-theatre project, I posed questions like: How do we—humans—impact the natural environment? What do our actions, in relation to the natural environment, say about what it means to be human? Through found text, live music, movement, video, and processes of improvisation, my ensemble and I built a sequence of scenes that brought audiences on a journey through varying perspectives on how citizens in Western culture—in our culture—make everyday choices with regards to food, transportation, and energy. We sought to challenge ourselves, and by extension our audience, to see beyond what is printed and spoken, and to enrich our knowledge through continued exploration.

Scene from GAIA: an eco-theatre project, Julia’s thesis production at Butler University. Photo by Madeline Carey.

I am not suggesting that the work I make in theatre has answers, or that any potential solutions laid out are the magic bullet for ending climate change, not at all. But as climate disasters persist—displacing people from homes they’ve had for decades or longer—and with our country’s political climate fueled by fear and hate, I am thirsty for alternatives. We need change, and we needed it yesterday. In the couple of years since GAIA, I have collected additional ways of thinking about how theatre artists can address climate change, about what elements make up the stories we tell ourselves, and how we can deepen those themes in the theatre to help us navigate a rapidly transforming world.

Last year, I gathered with a group of artists and climate activists for an exploratory conversation on performance, climate change, awareness, and resiliency as part of a weekend conference with Theatre Without Borders and NoPassport. We shared our questions, our thoughts, our practices of how we use art to tackle the vast topic of climate change, and we shared in the unexpected: pickle making. Looking back, how could such a gathering not have included some good-old-fashioned transformation? With the ingredients gathered and the recipe structured out, we collectively prepared the cucumbers for their new form. I found playfulness in the process. Sometimes recipes are strict: if you have slightly too much of something, it could compromise the consistency of the entire thing. But with pickling, especially in a group of at least fifteen varying preferences, there is flexibility. A few weeks stood between us and our homemade product, but like so much of the theatrical projects I work on, the final product was not the purpose of the pickling exercise. It was about the preparation. As artists, we must prepare for our work, build a structure and be willing to adapt. And as humans in an age of climate change, we must prepare for the major shifts that are already impacting our ways of being.

Pickling preparation at the Performance and Climate Change Exploratory Conversation as part of the Theatre Without Borders and NoPassport conference in March 2016, facilitated by Emily Mendelsohn, Sarah Cameron Sunde, and Moe Yousuf. Photo by Sarah Cameron Sunde.

This idea about preparation has stuck with me. What are the ingredients we must assemble as we formulate a more sustainable future? We need critical thinking, undoubtedly. Critical thinking is at the foundation of uprooting the current status quo of oppressive systems on local and global scales. Here lies part of our responsibility as artists: what are the relationships we are putting onstage, who has the power, and how is it distributed? These What, Who, and How questions manifest in some way through every theatrical narrative, and we must be intentional with the ways in which we lay them out, for ourselves, and for our audiences.

In his recent documentary, artist and activist Josh Fox collects stories of communities around the world directly impacted by climate change, from Hurricane-Sandy-stricken Rockaway Beach to heavily-polluted Beijing. How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change highlights these stories to illuminate factors that make us human, that we can use to keep up with the global climate. Across all of the communities depicted in the film, moral imagination arises as a key factor, a bedrock for bridging the categories of “us” and “them” and “present” and “future.” Along the lines of a collective consciousness, of viewing the world through a lens beyond our own, we can use a moral imagination to visualize the unforeseen consequences of human action, or inaction.

In my current play, UPROOT, I seek to re-draw the connection between Americans and where our food comes from. Fueled by food documentaries including King Corn and Darwin’s Nightmare, and by writers like Michael Pollan, UPROOT strives to empower individuals to (re)consider the situation of their choices. The characters in my play are personified foods, displacing literal human circumstances for more symbolic relationships, and therefore orienting the scene in an absurd, ridiculous way—it’s talking food after all! In stepping back, and metaphorically seeing ourselves in our food, I want to employ critical thinking and moral imagination as part of the process in reconfiguring our culture’s unsustainable status quo.

Picture your favorite food. What senses does it light up? Zoom out. What’s the context? Are there others around? Maybe you hear conversation, laughter, community. Is there talk of where this food came from? Maybe. Are you enjoying each other’s company? Definitely. The elements are there. The directions are structured out. It’s up to us to put it all together and get cooking.

Learn More
Julia’s play UPROOT performs August 22 and 23 at HERE (NYC), as part of SubletSeries@HERE: Co-Op, HERE’s curated summer rental program, which provides artists with subsidized space and equipment, as well as technical support. You can follow the play, and her entire series, The Food Plays, via Facebook.

(Top image: From the staged reading of UPROOT as part of the International Human Rights Art Festival at Dixon Place, March 4, 2017. Photo by Ariella Axelbank.)

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on September 23, 2016.

About Artists and Climate Change:

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

Everything is (Dis)connected

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

“Art could help us to question our perceptions and relationships to the climate and its changes. Artistic explorations should not be restricted to illustrating our scientific discoveries, as is done in contemporary climate-change showcases. Art should instead help us to experience and reveal our inner participation with climate, the rupture of its balance and its meaning for our inner world, in the same way that landscape artists reframed the relationship of humans to their environment.”
—Julien Knebusch, The Perception of Climate Change (2007)

I have always loved the idea of using art to advance social causes, to make us reflect and rethink what it means to be human today. My artwork is an ongoing exploration of the unresolved environmental concerns of this century. It attempts to define the world we live in by contrasting aspects of a disintegrating planet with the beauty of all living things. Yet despite this overwhelming beauty, the reality is that we are on a precipice of extinction, balancing on the edge of a global meltdown. The ravages of climate change have already been experienced in the form of more frequent floods, violent storms, drought, and the destruction of wetlands and other natural habitats. All of this has contributed to the loss of tens of thousands of species of animals, birds, and bees. As human beings, we are dependent on Nature for our survival. Everything humans need to survive and thrive has been provided by our natural world: food, water, medicine, materials for shelter, etc. Supplies of coal, gas, water, steel, wood are seen as infinitely available. Technology and industry have distanced us from nature, but our reliance on the natural world is still as important as ever.

A Question of Balance.

How do we make climate change real? Many of us have difficulty recognizing the link between our environmental problems and the way we live. A large percentage of the world’s population doesn’t feel the effects of climate change, unlike the farmer who works the land, the fisherman who harvests the sea, people living in low-lying coastal areas, and inhabitants of drought-ridden developing countries. One of the consequences of urban lifestyles, industrialization, capitalism, nationalism, the global economy, and social divides is that we have lost our connection to the natural world. These deep divisions are preventing us from addressing the problem collectively. We must recognize that because of our carelessness and neglect of our planet, climate change has become the greatest threat to future generations. Those least responsible for the damage will have to carry the greatest burden. Is this really the legacy we want to leave?

What role can the artist play in this debate about the environment?

The informed artist is an observer. The artist can ask questions, help shape our understanding of the world, open up hearts and minds to new ways of thinking, and offer visual interpretations of various global issues. Through my own personal practice, I express my concerns by adopting a balance between realism and surrealism. When attempting to open up people’s perspective, it is important that art be presented in a language that is accessible. Ultimately, I hope I can communicate the idea that if we manifest a positive outlook, protect, nurture, and realize what we have, we  can make a difference. Change needs to be radical, both globally and politically. We need to consume less, destroy less, conserve more, and embrace the abundance of renewable energy resources. If we want to protect future generations, immediate action is required before it is too late.

The Erosion of Eden.

Everything is (Dis)connected and A Question of Balance are part of my “Split World” series. Water divides the images, creating two separate worlds; one above, one below, each with their own message to the viewer. I use water in many of my images, such as in Plastic!, to create scenarios that communicate the devastating effects of rising sea levels, pollution, melting ice caps, etc. The images are messages of beauty presented at the dawning of the apocalypse. They warn of what the future might hold. They question our failure to integrate with the natural world, our failure to realize that we are dependent on our planet to survive, our failure to take responsibility and acknowledge the consequences of our actions.

The Erosion of Eden and Coming Undone make use of the triptych format. Both images depict one scene: a landmass that provides a rich, unkempt, and decaying environment. Both of these eroded landmasses are strewn with “found” objects, some a testament to the throw-away society we live in, others gifts from nature. They serve as symbols of hope, negligence, reverence, destruction, ignorance, awe, and desolation. All reference mortality, impermanence, and the widespread and consequential harm that is being done to plants and animals that are trying to adapt to new conditions. The use of the triptych format differs in both images; The Erosion of Eden depicts one moment in time and Coming Undone portrays different instants, albeit the same location. The panels descend from a heavenly, idyllic scene to a world in ruins. It could be said from heaven to hell!

Coming Undone.

Artists throughout history have made significant contributions to social, political, and environmental challenges by using their creative practice to reflect upon and confront the issues at hand. If we are to alter, even reverse climate change, we need to reach out to people through their emotions to inspire action. Art is one of the ways of doing this.

(Top image: Everything is (Dis)connected.)


Christine Simpson lives in County Waterford, Ireland. She is employed as a Lecturer on the BA (Hons) Design Communications and BA (Hons) Fine Art at Waterford Institute. Outside of academia, Christine is a practicing artist. Recently, the National Museum of Living Treasures in Tokyo purchased The Erosion of Eden, and she was invited to show at The Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin. She has received numerous awards including the Waterford Crystal Arts Award; a Gold Award from Graphis, New York; and The Silken Photo Award, Brussels. She was shortlisted in the top ten for the Sony World Photography Awards. Christine’s work is in many private collections.


About Artists and Climate Change:

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