Picture this: A woman stands in a 3,500-gallon Plexiglas tank as it slowly fills with water. Or not so slowly — 12 tons of water are pumped into the tank over the course of a minute. She is holding a basket of persimmons, until it floats out of her hands, spilling the fruits to bob and twirl in the water. She tries to gather them back up, her skirts floating around her. Behind her, palm trees are silhouetted against the sky, and a crowd gathers.
Why? Well for starters, it’s Art Basel Miami, so you don’t really need a reason. But in this case there is one: to “make people feel climate change in their gut,” according to the project’s creator, Lars Jan.
Jan, an artist and director, created Holoscenes as a response to pictures of flooding in Pakistan four years ago:
“So this image popped into my head of a man turning pages of a newspaper in a totally mundane room as it slowly filled with water,” Jan recalls. “He would take a big breath and hold it, but he doesn’t react to the flood with any sense of crisis. He comes up for air and goes back to reading his newspaper. I wanted to show people adapting to this crisis on an everyday basis.”
The artists in the tank aren’t told when the waters will rise or recede — a pretty direct translation of the very real uncertainty of climate change — but they carry on with their tasks just the same: coiling a hose, playing a guitar, getting dressed. The lack of reaction speaks to a human resilience in the face of catastrophic change, Jan says. It also seems like a pretty apt dramatization of our ability to ignore disaster even as it unfolds around us.
The work has already been touring around, but it finds a natural home in Miami, a major city already confronting (or failing to confront) the realities of sea-level rise. At the tail end of humanity’s hottest year, and with a critical climate conference underway, do I really need to point out all the parallels?
By the way, how’s your gut feeling? Any climate change in there yet? Who knows if art is the most direct path to that vaunted decision-making organ (we already tried the brain, didn’t we?) but what’s clear is that we’re talking about the real-world implications of climate change more than ever before, and in more languages and venues.
So while Miami fair-goers will get to see these hulks and this human paintbrush in action, they’ll also get a reminder that those wonky news headlines have real-world consequences — even if the consequence in this case is a 3,500-gallon tank containing a really frustrated gardener.