I used to love films about natural disasters – Volcano, Twister, Dante’s Peak – natural phenomena that I have never experienced, but I have seen the films more times than I can count. The reality is hundred of thousands of people across the world live in natural disaster-prone areas. Even more pressing is that hundreds of thousands more haven’t survived them.
How do we make the most pressing issues of our time digestible for all citizens?
I am not a climate change denier, nor am I informed enough to participate in a political conversation about it. I am the person who sits back and listens, but doesn’t necessarily understand. It is obvious that Mother Nature is experiencing menopausal hot flushes and cold snaps. Our climate is changing. I was in Chicago for the polar vortex – Snow Storm Hercules – the coldest winter experienced in two decades. We were cautioned not to go out into the Chicago streets as frostbite could set in within ten minutes. At the same time, back home was experiencing the hottest summer in two decades and the following year we were hearing the same headlines. They cautioned not to go outside as heat stroke and dehydration were a concern. This is why we hear the term climate change used more broadly than global warming nowadays – because it isn’t necessarily just warmer temperatures.
I spent two hours on Monday morning watching ‘Before the Flood’ Leonardo Di Caprio’s documentary about Climate Change. Coupled with conversations with fellow Young Social Pioneers, after watching ‘Before the Flood’ I felt like for the first time I understood the real urgency of Climate Change action. Perhaps it was the combination of key scientific data with cinematic shots of melting ice caps and high level carbon emissions hitting the atmosphere. Perhaps it was remembering all the assignments I did on elephants and orang-u-tans with the hope of visiting them one day, only to realise sooner rather than later they may be extinct.
With this new sense of urgency and eagerness to learn more, I did what any creative instigator would – I dug through my mental filing cabinet of artists. What artists are looking at issues pertaining to climate change? The first three that came to mind were women.
For months Zaria Forman’s photo realistic drawings have filled my Instagram feed. These large-scale drawings in soft pastel capture the beauty of icebergs as sturdy forces of nature (remember the end of Titanic). But they also capture their fragility, susceptible to the effects of global warming. Her work includes landscapes from Antarctica (she went on a residency with the National Geographic Voyager), Hawaii, The Maldives, Greenland (which also features in ‘Before the Flood’) and Thompson Lake to name a few. In her Ted Talk she spoke about visiting remote landscapes as child, landscapes that perhaps one day will not exist. In this way, her work is both a memorial to the land forms as they continue to melt and a plea to citizens. If we rally together to place more pressure on decision makers to take action on climate change, maybe, just maybe the process can be reversed.
This susceptibility and fragility in the environment is resulting in rising sea levels. I will never forget standing in the gallery watching performance artist Latai Taumoepeau perform ‘i-land x-isle’. Suspended under blocks of ice weighing in at two tonnes, Taumoepeau struggles and pushes through the pain. Latai’s body is not her own in this performance. Her body is a political tool representing the thousands of lives in the Pacific whose livelihood is susceptible with the impacts of climate change.
In Repatriate II the artist shovels ice in reference to the history of transporting ice across the world, before it could be created in freezers. The irony being the creation of ice now relies on fossil fuels, whose burning is melting the polar ice caps.
As I write I am reminded of Nicholas Folland’s ‘The door was open.’ In this work Folland draws attention to once the natural occurance of light and ice that are now manufactured.
A third individual I am going to mention is artist and engineer Natalie Jeremijenko. Her practice spans more than two decades and responds to her research and the institutional frameworks used to address social issues. She argues through her work that we can rethink our inaction by addressing the necessity for environmental change. In her Tedx talk, she questioned ‘Who has information, where, who can make sense of it and what can we do with the information?’
Most notably she opened the Environmental Health Clinic at New York University. Here clients are referred to as impatients, in line with their frustrations at inaction from governing bodies to implement real change. Her research showed that in the last fifteen years many of the health issues of growing concern were related to environmental issues – namely asthma, obesity, new rare forms of cancer found in children and development delays.
I am the furthest thing from an expert when it comes to climate change. I still have a lot of learning to do.The works above need little explanation. They drive home the global concern that is climate change. This is why the role of the artist in society is crucial. Throughout modernism artists responded to changes in speed in technology, mobility and so on. Artists take statistics and facts and produce content that is emotive, digestible and accessible. You cannot stand in front of Zaria’s work and not be awe-struck before the reality sets in; you cannot watch Latai struggle and not feel compelled to untie the traditional Tongan knots; you cannot help but want to be the next impatient at Natalie’s clinic seeking solutions before it is too late.
As global citizens the onus is partially on us to actively seek out the facts and more information, but media providers play a key role in driving the urgency of these issues into the mainstream consciousness. I mean driving as a global issue with local ramifications, relevant to all our lives and not a distant problem.
Until next pondering…
Keyword takeaways for your search engine – carbon emissions, climate change, deforestation, rising sea levels, fossil fuels and global warming.
PS- Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’ just arrived. An important read about Climate Change as a product of capitalism. Thanks for the recommendation Murrawah. You can see Murrawah in conversation with Naomi Klein Nov 9 at City Hall.