Artivism: Portraying Climate Change
Writing: Carlos Finlay
‘We are the asteroid’ reads a miniature road sign by artist Justin Brice Guariglia, displayed in the exhibition Storm King, in New York. Comprising a collection of works explicitly dealing with the topic of climate change, this piece is notably simple, yet emotive. It points a finger at no-one but us, equating our daily actions to be as damaging as the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. Indeed, scientists dub our age the next great extinction; the burning of fossil fuels produces twenty-three billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year. News that the world is getting warmer and that sea levels are rising is nothing new, and the artistic response has been key to raising awareness of the issue. If climate change has presented but one benefit, it has offered fodder for the production of art with the sole purpose to further the message that change needs to be enacted – and fast.
Single-use plastics present one of the greatest threats to our ocean ecosystems, with their production being one of the chief causes of global CO2 emissions. A direct product of humankind’s wasteful nature, 12.7 million tonnes of plastic currently reside in the sea, and it is predicted that in the coming years plastic waste will outnumber fish. As an abundant material, therefore, litter collected along coastlines has become popular amongst sculptors. Skyscraper– more commonly recognised as the Bruges Whale– was constructed for the 2018 Bruges Triennial in Belgium. Five tonnes of plastic waste was collected from the Pacific Ocean, and with it an immense whale was constructed emerging from the river. Although an imposing sculpture, Skyscraper outlines society’s frivolous use of plastic, with objects as basic as buckets and water bottles composing its body. The whale is undoubtedly a visual statement, but a statement, too, of a problem we seldom witness in person.
With water as a continued theme, last year Italian sculptor Lorenzo Quinn presented the temporary sculpture Support to the city of Venice. Composed only of two giant hands seemingly stopping the renaissance Ca’ Sagredo hotel from falling into the Grand Canal, Quinn’s piece directly references the threat rising sea levels present to Venice, as a city that has always maintained an intimate relationship with water. The piece is at once fearful yet optimistic, outlining our societal potential to amend the damaging consequences of global warming – to support the cause. If we want to preserve our many celebrated locations, then we best get to work. And by the sculpture being so large, it’s a pretty hard message to miss.
Climate change is a very real issue, but people need to realise the true environmental problems the planet is facing. Through art, at least, this message is impactful, offering a visual representation of the difficulty humankind could face in the coming years. It can be hard to apprehend the magnitude of the problem when it cannot be seen first-hand, which is why pieces like Skyscraper demonstrate the sheer scale of mankind’s wasteful tendencies. But if we are the asteroid, we can surely effect meteoric change.
1.Jerry L Thompson
2. Image by Carlos Finlay