Teresa Posyniak is a painter and sculptor best known for her work with encaustic, using hot beeswax to create rich, sensual surfaces that incorporate textures, drippings, splatters and layers of tinted, glowing colors. She is also an artist exploring climate change issues in Calgary, Alberta – a city that boast over 100 energy companies, mostly in the oil and gas industry. One of the fasted growing economy in Canada, with the tar sands literally in its backyard, Calgary does not play well with those who criticize its economy’s main driver. Yet artists still find a way to make their voices heard.
Note: The photos included in this post are studio shots of works in progress that will become part of Beautiful Losers: My Carbon Sink Muses. Each photo is a detail of a much larger installation. There will be at least 9 columns in total. Tree forms will number about a dozen. Bleached Forest will be one much larger piece with many more elements.
You’ve provided this blog with a few details of works in progress for your series Beautiful Losers: My Carbon Sink Muses. Can you describe these paintings, sculptures and installations?
In this series, I explore the beauty and function of plankton, the smallest photo-synthesizer and supplier of half the earth’s oxygen, and trees, the largest, through paintings, sculpture and installations. Fascinated by the ornate shells and lace-like appearance of plankton and the striations and other marks on trees, I’ve created many paintings of these subjects individually (see Inhale and Birch Poems series). More recently, I’ve begun combining these subjects to create new forms. The plankton paintings are shaped irregularly, like pieces of a large puzzle, and the sculptural elements are evolving into installations which are designed to adapt to myriad gallery spaces. The materials I use vary widely: painting media, canvas, paper, cast paper and concrete, wax, felt, wood, lace and industrial steel connectors. Once completed, I hope to exhibit this work in a public gallery in the near future.
How does an artist dealing with climate change survive in the heart of Canada’s oil country? Does the proximity of the tar sands influence how you approach your work?
I can’t help but approach the issue of climate change with some trepidation because many of my friends, family, neighbours, acquaintances, collectors and clients work in the oil industry or business related to oil. As a social activist, I’m aware that many of the social justice organizations and charities I’ve supported have been funded by the oil and gas companies. Like most of us anywhere in the world, I am dependent on oil and gas for my energy needs. In Alberta and Canada, oil is a key driver in our economy. But, as I like to point out, it doesn’t mean we can’t question it or lobby for alternatives to this non-renewable resource.
I’ve had many private studio viewings of this series in progress and had several images published in the 2012 Paris exhibition Carbon 12. Reactions vary wildly from fascination, curiousity, appreciation for the aesthetics of the works but doubt about my stance on climate change, defensiveness and occasionally open hostility towards the perceived “attack” on oil. Because I’m not a scientist but an artist who loves science in general and reads voraciously about climate change, I always emphasize the importance of paying attention to the science. When I do have an exhibition, I’ll definitely promote the invitation of scientists and others to lecture on this subject.
You mentioned being inspired by the work of science journalist Alanna Mitchell [featured in a previous blogpost] for your Inhale and Beautiful Losers series. Can you talk a little bit about this?
Alanna Mitchell, my close friend since the late 70’s, introduced me to plankton about 8 years ago while she was researching and writing Seasick: The Hidden Ecological Crisis of the Global Ocean. Our frequent conversations about her experiences with ocean scientists on their expeditions inspired me to look deeply into the function of plankton and the effects of ocean acidification as a result of increasing carbon emissions. About 3 years ago when Alanna walked into my studio, she pointed out that I was working on both the largest absorber of carbon emissions, trees, and the tiniest, plankton. Prior to that, I considered trees (a long-time subject) and plankton as separate series in spite of their common function. Alanna’s observations inspired me to integrate these distinctive forms ever since, leading me back into sculpture and installations after many years of painting. Her influence on the direction of my work and ideas has been no less than profound.
Beautiful Losers: My Carbon Sink Muses is a convergence of interests (trees and plankton) and disciplines (painting and sculpture). Do you feel this intersectional quality speaks to the nature of climate change in some way?
It feels very natural for me to explore the imagery of trees and plankton through painting and sculpture, both major disciplines in my art education and studio practice over 35 years. Blending art with reality has always been a major focus of mine as well, and when a work strikes a nerve with the public, it’s a hugely rich experience. In 1991 I built Lest We Forget: A Memorial to 135 Canadian Murdered Women which was later permanently installed in the University of Calgary’s Law School in 1994. It was one of Canada’s first such memorials and a catalyst even now for more discussion and action to address domestic violence. It now seems fitting that the cast paper and concrete columns I used in that sculpture are now being resurrected for Beautiful Losers where they are covered in lace and wax, appearing like strange trees crawling with plankton. The hugely all-encompassing nature of climate change lends itself to the convergence of ideas, imagery and the creation of new forms.
What gives you hope?
Without hope, we lack the motivation to discover solutions to this crisis that we face. Individual initiatives give me hope. Major climate change deniers and others that refuse to acknowledge the crisis make me lose hope. Unless governments provide leadership to impose controls on carbon emissions and the coal, oil and gas industries, what real impact do our efforts to recycle, use public transit, limit our energy consumption have? Hope is life-affirming, the only way forward.
Chantal Bilodeau is a playwright and translator whose work focuses on the intersection of science, policy, art, and climate change. She is the Artistic Director of The Arctic Cycle – an organization created to support the writing, development and production of eight plays that look at the social and environmental changes taking place in the eight countries of the Arctic – and the founder of the blog and international network Artists & Climate Change. She is a co-organizer of Climate Change Theatre Action, a worldwide series of readings and performances of short climate change plays presented in support of the United Nations COP meetings.