Contemporary Art and the Climate Emergency
The Global Climate Strike takes place this Friday, September 20th, 2019. Organized by young climate strikers, the demonstration encourages millions to walk out of workplaces, homes, and schools to demand change and effective action to the impending crisis. The Global Climate Strike’s website plainly states, “Our house is on fire- let’s act like it. We demand climate justice for everyone.” Orchestrated by children across the world whose futures are jeopardized and most directly impacted by the effects of global warming, this strike could prove to be the biggest climate protest in history. An urgent threat we can no longer ignore or put off, the global implications are an emergency that must be addressed by all. While we need participation and acknowledgement across all demographics and sectors, members of the art world are inspiring change and demonstrating hope, a greener tomorrow.
Lauren Bon, Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale that Society has the Capacity to Destroy (2006), Neon. Edition 1/12. © Lauren Bon and The Metabolic Studio. Photograph by Joshua White.
Sustainable practices and activism are permeating the arts. The directors of the Tate galleries recently laid out a plan to improve the institution’s commitment to sustainability, aiming to reduce its carbon footprint by 10 percent within four years. Curator Nicolas Bourriaud addresses the climate crisis in the upcoming Istanbul Biennial, titled The Seventh Continent. Referring to the huge island of garbage floating in the oceans and amounting to an area five times larger than Turkey, the title of the biennial is politically and environmentally charged.
As larger institutions address the need for policy change and environmentally responsible protocol, artists are creating public works and installations to garner attention and action.
Max Peintner, Hand Colored by Klaus Litmann. The Unending Attraction of Nature (1982).
In Austria, over three hundred trees are growing in a soccer stadium in a groundbreaking art installation entitled, For Forest, that aims to raise awareness about the dangers of deforestation and the world’s changing climate. Max Peitner's drawing done in 1982 (see above) inspires the installation, organized by Swiss curator, Klaus Littmann. Mindful of the ecological footprint of the project, the trees, some of which are full grown and weighing up to six tons, will be moved to a site near the stadium and replanted at the end of October.
For Forest, Installation (2019). Photo by Getty/Gert Eggenberger.
In conjunction with 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, visiting the UN’s Climate Action Summit in New York, British artist Michael Pinsky installed his work, Pollution Pods, in front of the UN building. Each of the six pods is built of interconnected, climatically controlled chambers that mimic the air quality in cities around the world. Carefully recreating the airborne pollutions often created by mass consumption and consumerism, the experience of walking through the pollution pods demonstrates that these worlds are interconnected and interdependent.
Michael Pinsky, Pollution Pods (2019). Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images.
Jody Thomas, Greta Thunberg (2019). Installation, the Tobacco Factory, Bristol, England.
These Climate Strikes won’t solve the climate crisis alone. What this moment can do is demonstrate that people are no longer willing to continue with the status quo and allow for the destruction of our planet to continue. It is everyone’s turn to show world leaders that we demand climate justice. As tomorrow’s climate strikes hopefully start a wave of dialogue, legislation, and regulation, artists must continue to take on the role of not only a creator, but of an activist.