On November 8, 2016, America elected a new president, and with that the world slipped out of joint. Gone sideways, I vacillate between states of dread, grief, confusion, panic, and self-medicated retreat. I know you feel me, but don’t let’s fall into despair. We are lost, but we will find our way. I believe that as long as we have air to breathe and water to drink, humanity will continue to evolve because it is “in our nature” to strive. As a break from all that striving, it’s comforting to sink into the long view, to think about deep time and humanity’s profound insignificance in the universe, to gain emotional distance from this broken world.
Yet the here-and-now urgently requires our attention! As we know too well, it is also in our nature to destroy. The second hand of the Doomsday clock just nudged closer to midnight and we really do not have time for an evolutionary detour into anti-science, post-factual, cultural chaos. I have never been an activist, but something is WOKE, as they say, and I need to respond.
Art serves as a way finder for culture. Art provides new perspectives and emotional context for thinking about our past and our future, and uncovers essential truths about our existence in the here-and-now. As a visual artist, I believe that what is deeply personal is also deeply human, and therefore “universal.” But when it comes to addressing a global crisis, can subtlety and nuance be useful? What does art activism look like? Can art that arises from an inward-turned process effect outward change? How?
With these questions in mind, I have been doing online research using keywords like “artists,” “scientists,” “interdisciplinary,” “respond,” and “climate change.” The Artists and Climate Change blog came up right away. I read many stories here and elsewhere of artists who are examining their role in shaping culture, finding a seat at the table, and working with direction and purpose. Culture moves forward incrementally as each one of us builds on the work of others. I am grateful for the artists and thinkers who have come before me, whose labors and love instruct and inspire. To keep the ball rolling, I’d like to point to a book and an article that have been influential in helping me articulate my own response to this crisis.
In 2015, Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin edited a collection of essays in a book called Art in the Anthropocene Encounters among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies. (Free online PDF, though it’s 400 pages long, or check your local library.) It highlights artists and projects around the globe that respond to and communicate about many aspects of the Anthropocene, including climate change. From interdisciplinary collaborations with scientists and researchers, to philosophic and poetic musings, this book presents many points of view and many “ways in” to critical discussions around this global environmental emergency.
This blog is a vital resource for learning. I have spent hours exploring links on the frontpage blogroll. On one such foray, as I learned about the Canary Project, I found this article: The Pensive Photograph as Agent: What can non-illustrative images do to Galvanize Public Support for Climate Change Action? by Edward Morris and Suzannah Sayler.
The authors, both Loeb Fellows, are creators, leaders, and teachers of art and activism. The Canary Project was recognized in 2016 with the Art/Act Award. In this article, they discuss their photograph-based project “A History of the Future.” They provide a philosophical framework that explores the intertwining of seeing, knowing, and believing. The article goes deep into the nature of art, and the role of the image as a bridge between scientific data, public understanding, and political will.
“A History of the Future” ostensibly documents climate change through photography and research. Morris and Sayler examine their own response to “looking at” climate change. They present a nuanced reading of how their project unfolded and what they learned from the process. They describe the indifferent, blank stare of nature and the psychology of a populace frozen in a state of inaction vis-a-vis climate change. Thoughts about collective trauma lead to a discussion of activism in art and beautiful, insightful musings on “the pensive image,” to name a few highlights.
Addressing the challenge of conveying the reality of climate change through visual means, particularly through photography, they say “…climate change cannot be seen in order to be believed. At the end of the day it must simply be believed, because climate change is a proposition and not a fact (no matter how empirically grounded that proposition might be).” Their writing opened up new ways of thinking about how to communicate about climate change both directly and indirectly.
My takeaway is that, to paraphrase the authors, while art may not be better than direct action to effect change, it contributes to the cultural foundation of public sentiment for direct action to take hold. They continue “Art is good at this because it opens rather than closes thought.” Or as they say elsewhere in the article, “Art makes space for belief, and belief makes space for change.”
The world needs art and artists. This might be a time for self-reflection and learning. Good. We’ll gather our strength, knowledge, passion, and the will to create… and resist.
About the images: These four flags are based on the beautiful red and white Greenlandic flag. Even though it is quite ingeniously abstracted, Greenland’s flag “pictures” nature: the massive ice sheet, the sea ice, the low sun. But what happens to this social imaginary of Greenland when the ice sheet is gone? Or when lack of sea ice disrupts age-old cycles and opens up new vulnerabilities? Visual art, through the act of picturing, seeds the social imaginary with new ways of seeing and understanding nature. This in turn shapes how we relate to nature, and so on, in a chain of cultural transmission.
Through visual art and the written word, Andrea Krupp engages with recognizing and attending to the exterior world, i.e., earth, nature; the interior landscape of self; and their twining. She believes in the power of visual language to provide new perspectives and deeper context for thinking about our past and our future, and to uncover essential truths about the here-and-now. Both personal and universal, her work explores the critical juncture between humanity and the earth.
Andrea lives and works in Philadelphia. She studied at the University of the Arts, graduated with honors and a BFA in Printmaking in 1984. She is furthermore a historian, rare book conservator, diarist, and word-hoarder.