Climate change art

Plants, rust, concrete

Do we need climate change art?

I would say we do. Art inspires people to think beyond their experience and grasp the implications of trends. It also motivates people emotionally in a way that scientific analysis can be hard-pressed to do. (Indeed, does only by accident, since scientific reports are not written to evoke emotional responses.)

Has any important climate change art emerged? (Weird sculpture outside 111 Sussex aside) Is there a danger that art that plays upon the worst fears evoked by climate science will be counterproductive? Can art help us to really grasp the danger, without the need for costly disasters to prove the link from greenhouse gasses to climate change to danger to humanity?

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

33 thoughts on “Climate change art”

  1. I think you are right-on in your account of the function of art. The only thing I would add is to emphasize “beyond experience” to include enlarging, or en-richening experience. I don’t know much about the contemporary art scene with respect to climate change, but would be interested to see contemporary works reckoning with this issue. In general I’m under the impression that whereas previous environmental art and concepts emphasised fragility (i.e. spaceship earth), the next/current phase will stress responsibility, stewardship, gravitas – like this for example:

  2. SATURDAY, AUGUST 8, 2009

    Eco-art: an exploration

    Thanks to Milan Ilnyckyj, whose blog on climate change art blazed this trail. I spent a couple of hours chasing links and looking up old notes — but this is only a sampling. Suggest other links in your comments.

  3. The V&A design exhibition ‘Telling Tales’ had at least a few pieces commenting on man’s relationship with the environment and climate change. I seem to remember a lot of other UK stuff vaguely but would have to hunt for examples.

  4. At Glastonbury Festival this year, in the Children’s area, kids had been busy on an art project where they turned recycled objects into minature wind-turbines, which together created a mini-wind farm.

  5. Lamp that runs on human blood

    By Cory Doctorow on Green

    Mike Thompson’s “Blood Lamp” is a single-use lantern that draws its energy from a drop of your blood, making you consider the cost of energy in a uniquely personal way.

    For the lamp to work one breaks the top off, dissolves the tablet, and uses their own blood to power a simple light. By creating a lamp that can only be used once, the user must consider when light is needed the most, forcing them to rethink how wasteful they are with energy, and how precious it is.

  6. Cape Farewell has brought together leading artists, writers, scientists, educators and media for a series of expeditions into the wild and challenging High Arctic. Together they have mapped, measured and been inspired by this awesome environment and have endeavoured to bring home stories and artworks that tell how a warming planet is impacting on this wilderness.

  7. HONG KONG — A leading anti-pollution campaign group in Hong Kong is deploying a new weapon in the fight for clean air in this Asian financial hub: art.

    Enlisting the support of 40 artists and the auction house Sotheby’s, the Clean Air Network has organized an auction of 51 environment-inspired works of modern art in what it says is the first awareness and fund-raising event of its kind.

    Most of the pieces went on display Monday in the upscale International Finance Center shopping mall in Hong Kong’s financial district, where they will remain until March 27. They will go under the Sotheby’s hammer April 4, where they will form part of the auction house’s twice-yearly sale of contemporary Asian art .

  8. “Despite the differences between art and science, it can be argued that climate change art could support the uptake of climate science as it emphasizes the emotional motivation it considers. The question of whether we need climate change art was raised by Milan Ilnyckyj, who refers to the way art expands experiential horizons and motivates people emotionally in contrast to the sciences, where this appears only occasionally (2009). Ilnyckyj formulates a set of significant questions, including: ‘Has any important climate change art emerged? Is there a danger that art that plays upon the worst fears evoked by climate science will be counterproductive?’ (2009)— not only in relation to creating bad art, but also by instilling fear that in itself does not lead to positive action. “

  9. The world’s best known climate-change artist is Olafur Eliasson. He began his career at 15, selling gouaches of landscapes he had encountered on walks with his Icelandic father, a painter. Later he photographed shrinking glaciers and polluted rivers. But it was his experiments with geometry and architecture, beginning in his late 20s, that led Mr Eliasson to make big conceptual pieces that use light, water and varying temperatures to create sensory experiences for his audiences. The “Weather Project” (2003) employed a vast “sun” to flood the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in London with yellow light, hinting at a future of ever higher temperatures. Audiences threw themselves into the performance. They lay on the floor, made star shapes with their bodies and took endless selfies—forms of engagement that have since become the norm at exhibitions around the world.

    The “Weather Project” was the first large-scale effort to deal with climate change in contemporary art. Fifteen years later, Mr Eliasson brought 24 massive chunks of ice from Greenland to the banks of the Thames in a work called “Ice Watch London”. As the ice melted outside Tate Modern, performance and protest fused. “I believe in challenging people’s perspectives and the numbness of the political sphere,” Mr Eliasson says. He notes that far more people saw the installation in London than would have done in Greenland—but some critics pointed out the cost in energy of transporting the ice across the Atlantic (there were installations in Copenhagen and Paris, too).

  10. Youth express climate fears, hopes through art

    Less than two years ago, Abby Neufeld and her friends were part of the global youth movement demonstrating against climate change. It was then Neufeld realized she cared too deeply about the cause to simply sit on the sidelines. She’s since helped create a digital space for youth to share their messages.

    “The climate issue is so intersectional. It hits housing, it hits social justice, the pandemic — we want to explore all of that,” said Neufeld, a co-founder of The New Twenties, a writers’ collective and magazine aiming to shape discourse around climate issues.

    The online publication provides young people with an artistic outlet to express their voices in a more creative fashion. It launched in January 2020, just before the climate movement was sidelined due to the pandemic, and has been able to direct some of the passion generated by the climate protests online.

    The website publishes a variety of different art forms and writing, ranging from performance events, poetry and non-fiction to reviews and artwork.

  11. On April 27th at 7pm ET join us as we take a musical journey through time to explore three human drivers of climate change. This Massey is Missing COP26 event will feature an excerpt of Icarus in Flight by composer Richard Festinger in collaboration with The ClimateMusic Project. In modelling the earth’s changing climate, this new quartet, Icarus in Flight, uses historical data on population growth, carbon emissions and land-use transformation, during the period 1880 projected out to 2080, to control certain aspects of the music. The evening will also include an opportunity to engage in conversation about the music and the science underlying it.

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