But broadly, it is the pervasive divide that Yellin points to as a fundamental challenge to progress and change. “I think the most pressing issue is our inability as a species to get along, our inability to work together, our sort of amplification of religious ideas and our continued propagation of certain socioeconomic and geopolitical divides, and nationalism,” he says. Such deeply rooted socioeconomic and historical divisions cannot simply be wished away nor solved with art. And fighting to transcend these issues in the face of entrenched economic interests rooted in the fossil fuel industry—members of which are slated to occupy key positions in the Trump administration—is a growing rather than receding challenge for climate change activists.
While not eschewing the present moment in his work, Yellin likes to think in broader strokes. “I try to position the work in a 500- or 1,000-year context,” he explains. “There’s tens of thousands of found images in there that are almost like the DNA of our species in our media. There are a hundred years of books and magazines that have been cut up; most of those books and magazines will be destroyed. And a lot of those images, whether they’re by an amateur photographer or illustrator, whatever it may be, those might be the only remnants of those humans’ works and what they were representing.” So, in crafting this image of an apocalyptic future, Yellin is also preserving the present.