Climate Art, A Tool For Change?

For centuries, nature has been the protagonist of art, with the natural landscapes inspiring the likes of Monet, Van Gough, Turner and Hockney. However, through the consequential events of climate change, the environmental muse that has sparked inspiration and genius in artists throughout the centuries is being destroyed. There is, and always has been, a fine balance between the two interconnected systems, and artists globally are using their platform to personify the warming world, in a movement defined as climate art, or ‘artivism’. As the French post-impressionist artist Pierre Bonnard once said, “Art will never be able to exist without nature,” and so if the natural world is lost, then with it, we will lose the beautifully influenced aesthetics that have always followed.

Art is useful to us all on many levels; provoking thought, exploring perceptions, inspiring the masses, increasing engagement and making us question the societal, political and systematic structures that are in place today. To prevent the impending doom of the fast approaching climatic changes, these concepts need to be addressed, and art can be the medium that is used to address them. This is because art is powerful - it evokes catharsis, having a strong emotional effect on the viewers. Pairing this reaction with the statistical truths that people may not directly see, allows for an emotional connection to be made towards the changing world around us. The pairing of these two disciplines could be revolutionary; science will present us the figures, and then art can be used as a way to visualise these figures, encouraging and educating people to register the reality of our current situation.

Additionally, art can take us back through periods of time, historical pieces depict how the arctic was a mass accumulation of ice and snow, we can see creatures that have lived and been, and the canvas the world once was. It can also be used to showcase what the future might look like. The future is not as far away as people think, so artists worldwide are using their platform to make people understand that for a future worth living, embellished with rich ecosystems, flourishing forests, and thriving coral reefs, there needs to be a shift in the behavioural social norm that is lived. Hull is an example of this. Being an area at risk from flooding, giant murals are to be painted around the city educating the community about the risks of climate change and the inevitable impacts of rising sea levels. This Shoreline Project, led by ‘Drunk Animal’ believes that we are at a crossroads for climate change, and through the use of murals, they are hoping to stimulate innovation and encourage people to explore alternative ways of living.

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Image: ‘The Girl’, designed to illustrate the struggle of life underwater. Taken from: Hull College, 2020

Zaria Forman, a climate artist, uses pastel drawings to illuminate climate data. She travels to remote regions of the world to document the current phenomenon, presenting a novel perspective of the world's icey environments. She has travelled with NASA, and other scientific expeditions to take photos which she later translates into enormous pastel drawings. Quoted from her NASA expedition, she remarked, “Like orbiting astronauts who are overcome by Earth’s fragility and moved to protect it, my drawings inspired by this experience are invitations to witness a perspective on our planet that is connected to both the exacting beauty of science and the terrifying urgency of climate change.”

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Image: Lincoln Sea, Greenland

Pastel on paper (2019)

Taken from: Zaria Forman, Nasa, 2020

With art seen as an advancing way to open up conversations of change, organisations are realising its role as an advocate pushing for a positive future. An example of this realisation can be seen in the state of California, which announced that it is going to build the world’s largest permanent art installation themed around climate change. California is highly vulnerable and at risk from rising temperatures. This is evident by the devastating wildfires, reduced precipitation and the earlier onset of melting snow. In response to this, and in hope to raise awareness, the clean air agency has commissioned the developments for the large scale climate themed works.

The agency has chosen artists who look into environmental and equity themes. One of the artists chosen, Tomás Saraceno, an Argentinian artist broke six world records when he successfully took flight in his solar-powered hot air balloon in January, 2020. He has made history, combining the likes of environmentalism, science and art, creating the first ever balloon like structure to lift a human into the atmosphere called Areocene Pacha. The name of the balloon was named after Pacha Mama, which he quotes is, “the Andean concept that connects what lies below and above the Earth’s surface with the furthest reaches of the cosmos, uniting space and time, Aerocene Pacha worked to bring together indigenous peoples and diverse communities through a common goal, raising voices in unison against harmful lithium extraction practices in northern Argentina.”

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Image: Fly with Aerocene Pacha, Argentina  (January, 2020)

Taken from: Studio Tomass Saraceno, 2020

With our destruction, comes incredible innovation, which continues to inspire and amaze us. It is easy to focus on the negative aspects of human behaviour, however, art allows us to see the positive change, the remarkable creativity which shines light into what can seem like a dark future. It is artists who will change the world, allowing the shift from dystopia to utopia.

Read: Resilience in the Age of Climate Change
Watch: See How NASA Helped An Artist Create Stunning Drawings of Glaciers | Short Film Showcase
Listen: The power of art in helping us to 'see' climate change
Follow: PangeaSeed Foundation

By contributing writer Scarlett Buckley


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