Weather Report, 2007
Shapeshifters have always been prevalent in the natural world. Nature is a giant testing ground to see which experiments fail and which succeed .
In the face of our climate crisis, creatures will need to change drastically to survive. Life is a powerful force and while many species have succumbed to extinction and many more are endangered, it is not a new phenomenon for creatures to adapt to a variety of environmental changes. I am not condoning standing back. On the contrary, we have to act now to prevent destruction.
These shapeshifters reflect ways animals have adapted and bring some futuristic options forward.
I collaborated with Andrew Martin, an evolutionary biologist, who made suggestions as well as fine tuned ideas. Evolution has millions of ways to alter variables to create a different outcome. To me, that is at the root of the true intersection of science and art; the faith and effort of experimentation. We need to be open to emergent ideas in times of great need. Ultimately, art and science have the ability to inspire hope and therefore action in others.
“People in Greenhouses Shouldn’t Tell Lies.” –Tim Flannery
I heard somewhere that weather is what you get, and climate is what you expect. IN the last few years, it has become abundantly clear that we no longer know what to expect from the climate; in fact—had we only notices—we haven’t been getting the expected for decades. As a firm believer in the ecological truism that everything is connected, I can’t imagine an issue more all-encompassing—or more challenging. Climate change, following the Gaia hypothesis, touches upon every aspect of life as we know it, even when we don’t know it is happening. One small change in the climate triggers microcosmic to macrocosmic chain reactions. Ecosystems, with their infinite sensitivity to change, “describe climate zones by where they grow”, Hellen and Newton Harrison’s The Mountain in the Greenhouse—a video of wildflowers being chased up a mountain by warming temperatures—is both metaphorical and emblematic. When the flowers and their dependents reach the top, where will they go?
The very fact of global warming offers startling insights into life on this planet. The existing literature makes it clear that the more research is done, the more the uncertainties increase, but what is rarely disputed is the fact that humans are exacerbating, if not inducing, climate change. It is also possible that even if we do the right thing, we may not be able to turn it around. “The climate we perceive is a metaphor for the sum of weather conditions over a chosen span of time and space,” writes Charles Wohlforth.
Having spent a year or more devouring information on global warming, I looked forward to showing off my newfound knowledge, but my task here is not to summarize the science (which Andrew Revkin does with flair) but to cover all too briefly the strategies chosen by the 51 artists in this show, and to imply what that says about the interactions between art, activism, and science (which Stephanie Smith does so well).
One of the principles of this exhibition, agreed upon from the beginning with EcoArts and BMOCA, was to give artists access to scientists working in the fields that they hoped to address. This process was at once fruitful and delicate. (Scientists are determined to remain politically neutral in order to retain their objectivity; artists chafe at constrictions.) Another goal was to put together a show that was beautiful, accessible, and alarming but not alarmist. Yet once we have heard the cries of the pika (a small, cute, alpine animal in line to be one of the next species to reach extinction due to climate change, joining the already lost Golden Toad, Staghorn Coral, and others), as broadcast by Brian Collier in The Pike Alarm, we have no choice but to empathize directly with the fate of “Nature”, and remember that we too are part of it.
Working with a small museum, and given my own preoccupation with activist and public arts, there were certain choices that had to be made. We knew we could not possibly cover all the bases suggested by climate change. How didactic did we want to be? How aesthetic? How focused? How ambiguous? An informative photograph show on the visible effects of global warming would not be hard to put together. A more aesthetically oriented show would incorporate painting and sculpture. I decided to focus on conceptual and site-specific work that seemed better able to cope with the vast amount of information available. We had a large pool of artists to choose from, given resources like Colorado’s own EcoArts, the similarly named artist’s internetwork, eco-art, the Green Museum, and ecoartspace.
The artists I finally asked to participate (29 women, 12 men, 10 collaborations) had already addressed the subject of climate change or were wholly involved in environmental issues and had made related work. They are important because they reach out to their audiences, they are willing to work in the world, to make art in a global arena, and because they are knowledgeable or curious enough to enter into dialogues with scientists and/or community. It has been exciting to watch them wrestle with this gigantic problem, trying to find ways to follow the debates and communicate visually what we can barely comprehend, even as it is oversimplified in the mass media. Each artist has been moved by a different aspect of the coming changed, ranging form renewable energy sources, sustainable building, food production, habitat restoration, suburban sprawl, governmental responsibility, wildlife migration, water shortages, desertification, and biological mutation, to the economic ramifications of our wasteful society, and on and on. There is not part of human life that will not be touched by climate change over the next millennium—should we last that long…..
The biological future is also the subject of Rebecca DiDomenico’s “Intentional Mutations”—a shapeshifting menagerie, guided by the artist’s scientific collaborators, of creatures that could evolve as wildlife gradually adapts to changing climates. Nature, like artists, she points out, will experiment with evolutionary possibilities, offering “a giant testing ground” for the success and failure of species.
…Will nature heal herself or drag us along a different path? As the global warnings proliferate, we are seeing only the tips of the melting icebergs. But at least we are finally seeing them, and it is the artist’s job to teach us how to see.