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Climate Change: Artists Getting on Board

I have been reading a book called Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life, A Tar Sands Tale, by Matt Hern and Am Johal, with wonderful illustrations by Joe Sacco. Here is how they see where we are:

“Our performances of recycling and climate-justice marching are matched by our relentless fossil-fuel consumption. We’re self-aware carbon pigs, climate villains, and walking biohazards, bifurcated into self-disciplining, self- renouncing selves, one part constantly monitoring and castigating the other.”

I am part of a Facebook group called Zero Waste, which is a perfect example of that. We are looking for micro solutions to plastic and trash, as we drive, fly and relentlessly consume.

The Youth Climate Strike, and the Green New Deal, tell us what is necessary to save the planet: nothing less than drastic suspension of our current habits and re- thinking everything we do, as well as powerful political pressure on our somnolent politicians.

Many artists are deeply concerned and depressed about climate change. Here is Lou Cabeen, a well-known artist based in Seattle: “Since 2016 I have engaged in an ongoing research project with fellow artist Sarah Jones that we call ‘Botanizing the Anthropocene.’ As an artist and truth-teller I want to understand how best to respond to our changing climate without being immobilized by despair.”

The exhibition “Surge,” which took place this fall at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner Museum, presented a landmark collaboration between 10 scientists and 24 artists addressing the ways in which current sea level rises and storm surges affect the Northwest. It is continuing to expand every year (I will be writing more about it soon).

Currently in Seattle we have two exhibitions addressing Climate Change: “Between Bodies” at the Henry Art Gallery, and Mary Coss’ one person show, “Groundswell” at the Method Gallery.

At the University of Washington Henry Art Gallery, Nina Bozicnik curated a pioneering exhibition of six artists who work with the interface of technology and nature, what she calls “humans and more than humans.” All of them are addressing “legacies of violence” on the planet; she offers works that emphasize the “sensorial”, the body, the trans body, that emphasize intervention by bodies other than white males who have for so long been wasting our planet.

By far the most accessible was Carolina Caycedo’s Water Portraits. She hung fabrics floor to ceiling that flowed with imprinted images of rushing intense river waters. They gave us a new way to experience and be with a river. Water flow is not outside of us, but flowing into us with its power and agency. Caycedo has worked for twelve years on “Be Dammed” that looks at the impact of dams in Colombia, specifically on the Yuma River, also known as the Magdalena River where nineteen dams are planned. She spent months speaking with local indigenous peoples about their lives before and after the dams seen in her film A Gente Rio/We River.

Sin Sol, Forest Memory by Micha Cárdenas and Abraham Avnisan includes augmented reality on iPads hanging in the midst of an immersive forest landscape. It imagines ways to survive in a world unable to sustain itself. Hormonal Fog, by Candice Lin and Patrick Staff disperses anti-testosterone herbs; imaginary volcanic explosions, a narrative by Caitlin Berrigan, proposes explosions triggered globally by trans feminist scientists as a rupture in patriarchal violence. Susanne Winterling makes visible the bioluminescent single cell organisms in the deep sea. And finally, the internationally renowned ecological artist, Ursula Biemann explores connection through sound with creatures in the deep Arctic sea in a semi-science fiction film called Acoustic Ocean.

All of these works take time to experience, as they address the violence to the earth, but offer alternative ways of feeling and imagining a future. Cross species communication alters our deeply engrained hierarchy of white men at the apex of civilization with license to extract what they want, where they want, how they want.

In contrast to the complexities of this show that embraces the past, present and future through a technology/ human interface, Mary Coss’*- show “Groundswell” gives us a physical, sensual, immersive experience. She is addressing advancing salt water in estuaries in Willapa Bay and elsewhere, and the severe ecological impacts on the intersecting webs of plants and animals as fresh water recedes. Her installation includes salt covered grasses, rocks and creatures, particularly barnacles that anchor themselves as salinity advances. Even as we feel the suffocation of life, we admire its beauty.

Which brings me back to Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life. What is the Sweetness of Life? According to these authors, it means “right living” based on “collectivity, responsibility and social embeddedness .an individual in the context of their community” embracing decolonizing alternatives to development. That is very much what “Between Bodies” suggests as it imagines a transgender future. Mary Coss, in contrast, gives us the concrete present moment.

~Susan N. Platt

Events around town

“Groundswell” March 1- April 6, 2019 at METHOD: Friday & Saturday, 12-5pm or by appointment: in the Tashiro Kaplan Building in Pioneer Square, 106 3rd Ave S, Seattle, WA

“Between Bodies” Oct 27, 2018 – Apr 28, 2019, Henry Art Gallery, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursdays; free on Thursday night and all day Sunday.

Seattle Art Museum: “Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer” to May 12 “Gibson’s complex work spans fashion and design, abstract painting, queer identity, popular music, and the materials and aesthetics of Native American cultures. The more than 65 works on view include beaded punching bags, figures and wall hangings, abstract geometric paintings on rawhide and canvas, performance video, and a new multimedia installation.”

Tacoma Art Museum: “Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: In the Footsteps of My Ancestors” to June 30, 2019, major contemporary Native American artist; it includes themes of conflict, dream, and identity. Smith has always operated on a cusp—culturally, temporally, aesthetically, and from a gender perspective—which gives her work vitality, originality and relevance.

ARTS at King Street Station “yəhaw̓” to Aug. 3, 2019 “The title of the show, yəhaw̓, is drawn from the Coast Salish story of Native people from all tribes uniting around a common cause and lifting up the sky together. In the spirit of the story, this exhibition will be a collective portrait of Native America, including creatives of all ages and stages in their careers, from Urban and Reservation communities, working in contemporary and traditional materials, and in ways that may or may not be widely recognized as Native.”

Portland Art Museum “the map is not the territory” to May 5 “This exhibition focuses along the eastern edge of the Pacific Ocean stretching from Oregon through Washington and Vancouver, B.C., up to Alaska. What does it mean to make art in this region today, and what are the immediate inspirations and pressing concerns that drive each artist’s work?”

Center for Contemporary Native Art “Not Fragile” selected glass works by native artists curated by Ryan Feddersen. “Though often associated with delicacy, glass is forged through intense and violent forces—a meteorite impacting the earth, a nuclear bomb detonating, or a 2,000 °F crucible. Not Fragile features artists from across the Pacific Northwest who use glass in innovative ways to impart messages of strength, resilience, and insubordination.”

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