A Delicate Balance: Can Systems of Man and Nature Co-Exist?

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

I grew up on a farm near woods and streams in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Nature was all around me. As a child observing nature, I focused on the macro and the micro worlds – veins and galls on leaves, organisms swimming in puddles, tree bark, a bird’s nest on the windowsill, stars in the Milky Way, and an eclipse of the sun. With wonder and awe, when I was around 7 years old, I witnessed the Aurora Borealis from the porch outside my house. The Sun’s activity and the Earth’s magnetic field were lined up in such a way that we could see it in Pennsylvania. The phenomenon of nature was a treasured part of my life then, as it is now. As a resident of Chicago, I like to go to Lake Michigan and nature preserves nearby, to commune with nature.

The beauty of the world’s creatures and plants brings me joy, sustenance, and wonderment so I am devastated by what is happening to our planet. Animals are going extinct from poaching and human encroachment; we are polluting oceans and depleting them of sea life (and the Fukushima Daiichi plant continues to spew nuclear radiation into the Pacific Ocean); our ground water is being used up or contaminated; and, toxins are poisoning our air. As the planet heats up from human CO2 emissions, coral reefs are dying and glaciers are melting.

Shortsighted policies fail to recognize that we need insects, plants, and animals. Ant tunneling aids in decomposition, soil aeration and nutrient recycling. Bees pollinate fruits and vegetables. Bats eat pest insects, and fruit bat guano plays a role in seed dispersal. Birds aid in forest decomposition, pest control, nutrient recycling, plant pollination, and seed dispersal. Plants are a major source of medicine, with many lost forever through rainforest destruction. Plant roots prevent soil erosion, and rainforests produce and hold moisture, preventing drought and desert conditions. These are just a few examples of how we benefit from natural habitats.

I have always admired drawings in biology and science books, with close-ups, cutaways, and instructive illustrations depicting nature accurately and scientifically. After pursuing my MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I enrolled in natural science illustration classes and became a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators. I loved making watercolor illustrations. While illustrating organisms, I learned about them so in a sense I became a kind of scientist studying nature.

My interest in natural organisms lead to the development of a body of work influenced by dioramas and displays in natural history museums. In one of my works, titled Deep Down (pictured above), I have created a cutaway in a cube that shows a chipmunk (covered with fur) living underground along with a worm, rock, and plant roots. A second side of the cube shows a snake, above and underground. The third side reveals an anthill above ground, and the colony tunnels underground. And the fourth side has a plant, cicada, plant roots, and a worm underground.

In another work, titled In My Backyard (pictured below), I have created a reproduction of a log made from epoxy clay, a reproduction of a wild beehive and bees, and a garden hose, all connected with industrial gas piping. On the right side of a pipe is a cube, with paintings of a housing development, a microscopic close-up of red blood cells, and a Japanese beetle on a leaf. A globe covered in mushrooms hangs from a chain from the cube. In this work, I am exploring systems impacted by man’s activity.

In My Back Yard, 45” x 32” x 13”, epoxy clay, wooden cube, gas pipe, garden hose, paper, wire, acrylic, Mylar, flocking.

Other works such as Factory Farm (pictured below) and Fracking point to systems of man that are wreaking havoc on the environment. Runoff from factory farms is creating algae blooms in the ocean, GMO crops are killing helpful insects and creating super weeds, and fracking is polluting water wells with natural gas and causing earthquakes. Bees are being sickened and disrupted as they are trucked all around the country to pollinate fruit trees.

Factory Farm, 45” x 34” x 17”,  wood, epoxy clay, wooden cube, gas pipe, acrylic, resin, found objects, paper, metal tube.

Spelling Bee imagines a larger than life genetically modified bee that can spell and is making a hive in the shape of the letter B.

Spelling Bee, 33 3/8” x 19” x 2 ½,″ craft fur, epoxy clay, acrylic, resin, Mylar, chloroplast.

Under the present Trump administration, with its stated goal of shutting down the EPA, we will lose important protections. Trump wants to reverse the Clean Air Act, cut energy efficiency rules, allow dumping of coal ash into waterways, eliminate car fuel efficiency requirements, and permit the use of lead-based bullets, killing eagles who might feed on contaminated animal carcasses. He has already signed an executive order to reverse the Clean Water Rule, wants to roll back the Endangered Species Act, is reversing bans on harmful pesticides and chemicals, and backing the oil and gas industries regardless of their negative impact. Deregulation primarily benefits corporate interests, not the people, not the planet. Trump is not thinking about leaving a healthy planet as a legacy for his children and grandchildren. Denying climate change will delay crucial steps to reverse it. This is unacceptable, and we must fight these ill-conceived, poorly informed policies.

As an artist, it is important to me to make work that addresses these issues. My work celebrates the beauty of nature, while at the same time pointing out the impacts of human activity. My hope is that by connecting with my art, others will realize how important the continued existence of all manifestations of life is for the survival of our planet and its people.

(Top image: Deep Down, 16” x 8” x 8”, carved wood, mixed media.)


Chicago artist Victoria Fuller has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and fellowship awards from the Colorado Council on the Arts and Humanities, and the Illinois Arts Council. She also received an Illinois Arts Council CAAP Grant, and was a resident artist at Sculpture Space in Utica, NY and Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, IL. Her large-scale public sculpture “Shoe of Shoes” is in the collection of Caleres Shoes in St. Louis. Sound Transit in Seattle commissioned another large-scale sculpture, “Global Garden Shovel,” and she was commissioned by Comed to create the sculpture “Peas and Quiet.” In 2016 she was featured in Sculpture Magazine’s May issue, as part of the show “Disruption” at Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ. Her most recent large-scale public sculpture, titled ”Canoe Fan,” is installed along the Huron River in Ann Arbor, MI.

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.

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