Art in a Changing Climate
Four years ago, Bill McKibben wrote an essay for Grist in which he suggested we were in serious need of art about climate change. “Where are the books? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?” he asked.
Since then, much has happened. Books and films have emerged, photographs and performances, ballads and raps, even art exhibits devoted to the topic. And then, of course, there’s An Inconvenient Truth, which, in addition to reaching audiences through a book, a movie and yes, even an opera, essentially made “climate change” part of our everyday lexicon.
Some attempts at climate art are more effective than others. (We’re talking to you, Miley.) But it all adds up to an increasing cultural awareness of the crisis at hand.
Art reminds us of what’s at stake, helps us fully comprehend the issues, and teaches us how to adapt. But perhaps most important of all, art can inspire us to act.
It is in this spirit that we present this special series on art in a changing climate.
In it, we feature a follow-up essay from McKibben and introduce some of the artists answering his call for climate art. We highlight specific projects via multimedia — including an audio interview with artist Chris Jordan, an audio slideshow from the “Facing Climate Change” project, and a photo series on performance art. We explore some of the best (and worst) music to come out of the movement and look at the ways the music industry is working toward a smaller footprint. And finally, we suggest a tour of green art museums, online exhibits, and other resources.
Stories in this series:
Portrait of an artist as a climate activist
This image of a polar bear on Barnard Harbor in Alaska was used in a Senate debate about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.Photo: Subhankar Banerjee “Art has always reflected what is in our world and in our horizon and what our fears are — which is all tied in to climate change.” Coco Howard, Seattle artist In 2003, a Senate debate turned into an art show for a moment. In the heat of an argument over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) held up an image of a polar bear crossing a frozen harbor. …
Four years after my pleading essay, climate art is hot
That pleading little essay I wrote in 2005? It was probably the last moment I could have written it. Clearly there were lots and lots of people already thinking the same way, because ever since it’s seemed to me as if deep and moving images and sounds and words have been flooding out into the world. Bill, built from Flickr pix.Kalman Gacs, 350.org/galleryThat torrent of art has been, often, deeply disturbing — it should be deeply disturbing, given what we’re doing to the earth. (And none of it has quite matched the performance work that nature itself is providing. Check …
Audio slideshow: Facing climate change — and wildfire
Photographer/writer duo Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele have traveled to the Arctic and back to record the impacts of climate change. And while they realize we are facing a global problem, they’ve found that every community has a local story. Through their multimedia project “Facing Climate Change,” they aim to tell those stories via striking images, frank interviews, and alarming facts. In this multimedia piece about wildfire suppression in the American West, Drummond and Steele talk with wildland firefighter Joe King about the costs of fighting wildfires and the ways climate change is adding fuel to the fire. …
Audio slideshow: Chris Jordan on America’s coal consumption
Artist Chris Jordan is known for his creative representations of American consumption habits, but even he was shocked to find out the numbers involved in producing coal-fired electricity. After learning about mountaintop removal mining in the Appalachian range, Jordan decided to illustrate just how much coal we consume each day — and the project turned out to be much more immense than he had realized.
A tour of green-leaning museums [SLIDESHOW]
Far from their sometimes musty, dusty reputations, many museums in the U.S. stand on the cutting edge of eco-innovation. Whether it’s behind the scenes (using recycled materials to build exhibits, renovating to LEED standards) or inescapably out front (a whole museum dedicated to wind power), museums are showing visitors the green light. Take our tour — admission is free!
Resources and links for the art-hungry
Most of the pieces in this series focus on individual artists or one-off works. But climate art is gaining an institutional foothold too. Check out our tour of green museums — and read on for more examples of groups taking a broader look at climate through art. Welcome to Cape Farewell. Population: earth. Founded in 2001 by artist David Buckland, Cape Farewell aims to “pioneer the cultural response to climate change.” The international charitable organization does this by bringing artists, scientists, and communicators together to inspire the creation of art that is rooted in scientific research.This piece made from steel, …
Preview the Royal Academy of Arts exhibit ‘Earth: Art of a Changing World’ [SLIDESHOW]
More than 30 leading contemporary artists have contributed work on the theme of climate change for an upcoming exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Entitled “Earth: Art of a Changing World,” the exhibit runs from Dec. 3 through Jan. 31, 2010.
Climate activism as performance art [SLIDESHOW]
Someone wise in the PR biz once said “any publicity is good publicity,” and climate activists certainly seem to take these words to heart. They’re not afraid to dress up as polar bears or penguins or CFL bulbs to get their message across. And they recognize the power of a good aerial shot, too, arranging themselves on beaches, open fields, and frozen ice to spell out what’s on their minds. We’re highlighting their work in our series because we recognize that it takes a lot of creativity — and some fancy stitching in some cases — to make this activist-powered …
Songs about climate change are not so hot
The green sliver to your right represents songs that express environmental concern and don’t suck. It is populated by “Big Yellow Taxi” from Joni Mitchell. Oh, and “Mercy Mercy Me” by Marvin Gaye. “Earth Song,” by Michael Jackson, if you’re into that kind of thing. A couple of Neil Young songs. They call it a sliver for a reason. With the recent explosion of “green” over the past few years, though, we’ve noticed a new wave of tunes that try to do better — to hip green so, you know, the kids can dance to it. Unfortunately, few of these …