Harrowing Works of Art Inspired by Climate Change


Climate change never really fades from artists’ or the public’s imagination, but there are times of year and moments of crisis when it peaks as a source of inspiration and concern. The start of summer is one of those times, and this year, it has been been intensified by the news of wildfires in Colorado, a water crisis in West Texas oilfields, and a 400-year flood in Central Europe, all of which can be traced to the effects of global warming. For Unfold, an exhibition that has traveled to venues in London and Chicago and has now arrived in Vienna, 25 artists were asked to create a work of art in response to expeditions to the High Arctic and the Andes, where they were able to witness the harrowing “tipping points” of climate change in the flesh. Their contributions, after the jump, show a range of inventive and emotionally challenging responses to a world’s adjustment — felicitous and otherwise — to human industry, transportation, and agriculture.

Brenndan McGuire, The River, 2010. Video loop.

[Image via Cape Farewell]

Artist Brenndan McGuire spends most of his time in the music world, producing music and designing recording and concert apparati for musicians, and making music equipment out of discarded electronics with his company Gleaner Audio. This video, shot during an artist group expedition in the Andes in 2009, is meant to capture McGuire’s feelings and nostalgia for the untouched natural world.

Amy Balkin, Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report – Summary for Policymakers, 2008, Video.

For her work in the Unfold exhibition, artist Amy Balkin sought to demonstrate the ongoing alliances between the worlds of art, education, and performance by delivering and taping a deceptively dry, un-arty reading of “Summary for Policymakers for the Synthesis Report of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4).”

Chris Wainwright. Here Comes The Sun – There Goes The Ice Framed, 2010. Ink jet prints on aluminium.

[Image via Cape Farewell]

Artist Chis Wainwright created this photo series while circling around an actively collapsing iceberg in a small raft off the coast of Greenland. The red and white flashes, reflected off the surfaces of the ice, were chosen to reflect the incalculably menacing effects of the melting ice.

Francesca Galeazzi, Justifying Bad Behaviour, Performance, 2010. 2 Digital prints on Perspex. Aluminium mounted.

[Image via Cape Farewell]

An artist and architectural engineer based in Shanghai, Galeazzi frequently focuses on issues related to climate change and urbanization in her work. This photograph was taken at a brief moment in early morning when the light from the sky matches the light from a nearby projector, zeroing in on the minimal scope of a human life in comparison to the epic biography of a glacier.

Marije de Hass, Wellness over time, 2010. Inkjet print on paper.

[Image via EcoArtScotland.net]

In a contribution that follows the increasing popularity of “data art,” artist Marije de Hass created a chart to visually represent the physical reactions of her fellow crew members to various degrees of altitude, humidity, cold, heat, diet, wildlife, and exertion while on their expeditions.

David Buckland. Blue Glacier, 2009. Photographic print, aluminium mounted.

[Image via Cape Farewell]

David Buckland was attracted to this image of a melting, 1,000-plus-year-old glacier for its hard-to-miss sexual symbolism, which he said represented the need for “genuine gender balance” in the political and decision-making bodies that guide human industrial and political activity.

David Buckland, Portrait. Jarvis Cocker, 2010. Photographic print, perspex mounted.

[Image via Cape Farewell]

This contribution, also by David Buckland, is presented as a word and text diptych. It includes a portrait and prose of the musician Jarvis Cocker, a veteran of the band Pulp, who once jumped on stage at the BRIT Awards to protest an arguably sanctimonious performance of Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song.” Cocker accompanied the Unfold artist team on a 2008 trip to Disko Bay in West Greenland.

Daro Montag. Leafcutter ant drawing, Amazon rainforest, 2009. Carbon and oil on pre-used paper.

[Image via Image via Cape Farewell]

This work by artist Daro Montag, which was created with the feet of tens of ants navigating the two stripes of a carbon-oil solution painted onto the paper, offers an inventive commentary on the interaction between human and natural activity, and on nature’s persistent ability to override or elide human interventions into the natural world.

Sunand Prasad, Greenhouse Gas. Digital prints on Perspex, Aluminium mounted.Photo by Nathan Gallagher.

[Image via Cape Farewell]

Filling four balloons with 540 m² of helium — representing the space taken up by the one ton of carbon dioxide the average Briton produces a month — and tethering them to a melting glacier, artist Sunand Prasad sought to visualize the otherwise unseen connection between “minor” human activity and an immense change in the natural landscape.

Ackroyd & Harvey. Polar Diamond, 2009. Diamond mounted on White Gold pin.

[Image via Cape Farewell]

While most art made in response to climate change deals with the present or foreseeable future, sculptor duo Ackroyd & Harvey sought to make something that dealt with the plight of the arctic polar bear population in the not-foreseeable, radically distant future. Drawing ash from the cremated bone of a polar bear, an industrial process that simulates the million-year-long furnace that produces diamonds, the artists managed, with the support of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, to forge a man-made diamond of their own.

Adriane Colburn, Forest for the Trees, 2010. Paper, ink jet prints, aluminium, steel, ink, paint.

[Image via Cape Farewell]

Building a set of hanging terraria out of emphatically man-made materials like steel, aluminum, and paper, artist Adriane Colburn made this work in an effort to isolate the effects and pitfalls of human efforts to contain and commodify natural processes.

Michèle Noach. Through The Ice, Darkly, 2010. Sets of Lenticular prints.

[Image via Michelenoach.com]

This series by photographer Michèle Noach included diptychs in which Norwegian postcards of coastal glaciers were placed next to photographs she took on her visits to the same spots in 2004 and 2009. “My real interest was in capturing the change of atmosphere, archiving how the landscape had altered and how that felt,” Noach wrote in a statement, “and not a detailed before and after comparison of ice mass.”