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Artists Interpreting Climate Change, Part II

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about how artists are interpreting climate change, and what some artists are doing to prevent it. Since then, I’ve heard from a number of people about other creative projects dealing with these issues. I quickly realized that I needed to write a sequel blog on the subject. 

Not all artists use paint and canvas to pay attention to climate change. 

One of the most amazing uses of creative technology, which many of us recently saw, was when The Weather Channel used augmented reality graphics to demonstrate the possible effects of Hurricane Florence’s storm surge. Meteorologists were surrounded on screen by the rising water, carrying floating cars and other debris, while they explained the potential danger of the surge. The Weather Channel is partnering with The Future Group to take an “Unreal Engine” (originally created for video games) and use it as “immersive mixed-reality technology” to improve their viewers’ understanding of weather phenomena. Michael Potts, TWC’s vice president of design, said that this technology, which wasn’t even available a few months ago, “allows us to paint pictures” unlike anything anyone has ever seen. These are high-tech artists at work.  

A musician who is paying attention to climate change is GZA, one of the founding members of the hip-hop group, Wu-Tang Clan. GZA isn’t rapping about the climate. He’s exploring it in his TV series, “Liquid Science.” The first episode is titled Global Warming, and is available on Netflix or can be streamed here. Other episodes of the series take GZA on a journey where he meets with scientists and engineers who are shaping the future. All of them are worth watching. 

Closer to home, the environmental artist Stacy Levy has created an installation in the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia called Tide Field, through Nov. 20, which uses “art as a vehicle for translating the patterns and processes of the natural world.” The piece, commissioned by the Mural Arts Philadelphia and Bartram’s Garden, consists of hundreds of multi-colored caterpillar-like buoys which move with the tidal flow. There is a great video of the work here. I first became aware of Levy’s work when I visited the Frick Environmental Center in Pittsburgh this summer and saw her beautiful Rain Ravine, which funnels water from the rooftop down almost 300 feet across a sandstone sculpture to the wetlands below. If you are planning to go on PennFuture’s Solar Tour this Saturday, you can view it then. 

An entire exhibit of works made with non-traditional materials is at the Brandywine River Museum of Art through Oct. 21. Natural Wonders: The Sublime in Contemporary Art, features 13 American artists examining our relationship with nature. According the curator, Suzanne Ramljak, the works “reflect the current anxiety and concern for the sustainability of the Earth’s resources.” The exhibit is meant to complement the work of the Brandywine Conservancy and its efforts to protect land and water in the Brandywine Valley. 

As cool as all of these uses of innovative materials, approaches, and technology are, the most exciting thing I’ve seen since posting my first blog was that the Natural Resources Defense Council actually has a position on their staff for working with artists who pay attention to climate change!  “One of the really hard things about climate change is that people struggle to imagine it, and imagine what it looks like,” says Elizabeth Corr, Manager of Arts Partnerships for the NRDC. “Artists and art have the incredible ability to break down that barrier . . . that allows the public to interact, to ask questions, to have emotive responses, to feel. And once they’re feeling, they’ll be more inclined to take action.” NRDC also has its own artists-in-residence program to support this work. Wow!

While I continue to explore how artists are paying attention to climate change, I keep thinking back to one of the most interesting books I read in graduate school, Leonard Shlain’s Art & Physics. Shlain, a medical doctor, takes his reader on a historical tour of how people understand reality – through art and through science. Written in a way that is accessible to everyone, he makes the argument that art and science are parallel visions that have been informing each other throughout time. 

Seeing how artists are tackling issues of science in their work that comments on, and in some cases tries to prevent, climate change, is inspiring. As we work to save our planet for future generations, it is even more important to now recognize these parallel methods of understanding and changing, our world. 

I can’t wait to see what we do next!

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