Artists tackle climate change

October 26, 2008 at 4:26 am | Posted in Climate and art, Climate understanding | Leave a comment
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If art is a medium through which a culture communicates with itself about topics it is struggling to understand, then the meaning of climate change is now on a lot of people’s minds. 

In the last few weeks alone, news has surfaced about a number of climate-themed art projects and exhibits.

Perhaps coolest of all – no pun intended – is Cape Farewell, an organization that sponsors expeditions of scientists and artists into the Arctic to promote a cultural understanding of climate change.  The latest expedition came to an end on October 6, after bringing some big name stars face to face with the first front of climate change. 

Musicians KT Tunstall, Jarvis Cocker, Feist, Laurie Anderson and Martha Wainwright, among others, were on the crew list.  Check out Jarvis Cocker of Pulp describing his experience:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Jarvis Cocker“, posted with vodpod

Huge institutional efforts that look to art and artifacts to educate about climate change are also underway.

At the American Museum of Natural History in New York, a new exhibit just opened that aims to provide people with context about why climate change is happening and what it might mean.

The exhibit’s introduction reads: “Yes, climate has changed throughout Earth’s long history, but this time is different. For the first time, complex human societies are facing the consequences of climate change worldwide. Plant and animal species already threatened by fragmented habitats are feeling the impact. And for the first time, humans are causing it.”

Other projects are using art as a way to give people a way to relate to climate statistics and think about their own responsibility.  For example, an installation titled “Nine Planets Wanted!” was on display in the lobby of the United Nations building last month.  

Beanbags at the "Nine Planets Wanted!" exhibit.

Beanbags at the "Nine Planets Wanted" exhibit.

It presented visitors with beanbag chairs of different sizes to draw comparisons between the CO2 emissions of different regions and countries.  

According to the exhibit:  “If every person on earth generated as much CO2 as the average North American, emissions would be nine times the sustainable level.”  And: “An average air conditioning unit in Florida emits more CO2 in a year than a person in Afghanistan or Cambodia during their lifetime.  An average dishwasher in Europe emits as much CO2 in a year as three Ethiopians.”

The U.N. is also sponsoring an art project called “Paint for the Planet,” through which children have been asked to create artworks about their hopes and fears for the planet.  The project is the first in its new “UNite to combat climate change campaign,” an effort to encourage world leaders to agree on a new climate-change plan to take effect after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.  Close to 200 government leaders will meet in Copenhagen in December 2009 to discuss a plan, and the UNite campaign will be ongoing until then.  

Meanwhile, Oxfam America, an international relief agency, has also launched a project called “Climate Change on Canvas.”  For the project, artists have been asked to create works about how poor communities throughout the world are being affected by climate change.  The commissioned artworks will be presented at the next United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Poznan, Poland, in December. 

Climate change and art are meeting up on the street level too.  In New York, the artist Joshua Allen Harris has constructed a polar bear made out of plastic bags that comes to life every time a subway passes.  The bear sits atop a subway grate, and as the trains gust by below, it deflates and inflates.

And to the south, in Washington D.C., Greenpeace has teamed up with the street artist Mark Jenkins to deploy homeless polar bear sculptures throughout the capitol. 


Mark Jenkin's polar bear art.

One of Mark Jenkins' polar bears in Washington, D.C.

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