Artists address climate crisis in Anderson Ranch and CORE collaboration
The Aspen Times
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘Imagine Climate: artists on climate change’
Where: Anderson Ranch Arts Center & The Collective, Snowmass Village
When: Monday, March 4 through April 1, opening reception March 5, 5-7 p.m.
How much: Free
‘IMAGINE CLIMATE’ EVENTS
March 5, 5 – 7 p.m. ‘Imagine Climate’ opening reception, Anderson Ranch Arts Center
March 13 ‘Future Energy: a technologist, a climate scientist and an artist walk into a bar with Holy Cross Energy CEO Bryan Hannegan, NOAA science adviser Roger S. Pulwarty and environmental artist Sarah Uhl, Aspen Center for Physics
March 21 ‘The Human Element’ film screening with James Balog, The Temporary
Nine artists from Aspen and as far away as Qatar are using their work to confront the global warming crisis in “Imagine Climate.”
The group show at Anderson Ranch Arts Center and The Collective in Snowmass Village opens Monday and coincides with the 25th anniversary of Aspen’s Community Office of Resource Efficiency (CORE), which assists locals and governments to more efficiently use energy and water.
Lara Whitley, a visual artist and CORE’s community engagement manager, aimed to launch anniversary events that would reach beyond the local climate activist community and those who might normally show up for a symposium or a rally. As she put it, CORE wanted to stop preaching to the choir.
“In order to get beyond the choir you have to get out of the church,” Whitley said. “We need to involve more people. Our goal is to spark climate action, and in order to do that it’s about partnerships and using creativity as a lever for social change.”
The monthlong “Imagine Climate” exhibition and events follow CORE’s 2017 snow landscape art project that similarly married climate activism and art.
Whitley and co-curator Brian Shure, gallery chair at Anderson Ranch, sought out international and local artists who were doing work that engaged with the climate crisis. The ambitious indoor-outdoor show includes contributions from local artists like Whitley, Linda Girvin and Adrien Segal along with international artists like the Doha-based Fleming Jeffries and Brooklyn-based Justin Brice Guariglia.
The show includes the outdoor installation of Guariglia’s “We Are the Asteroid II,” an LED-lighted text work on a re-appropriated roadside sign. Rather than the usual warnings about traffic and wildlife crossings, it displays six rotating messages sounding the alarm about climate change: “WARNING HIGH CO2,” for example, “GLOBAL WARMING AT WORK,” “GOODBYE ARCTIC ICE,” “DONT ECO SHOP ECO VOTE” and the apocalyptic “WE ARE THE ASTEROID.”
The exhibition announcement noted the sign is reminiscent of the roadside warning signs that lined Highway 82 last summer as the Lake Christine Fire raged in the midvalley.
“The whole point of these signs and this project is to really try to sew some of these ecological thoughts into people’s minds,” Guariglia explained. “It does it in a way that, hopefully, raises a lot of curiosity and eyebrows and gets people thinking when it is convenient not to think about it.”
Bringing Guariglia’s work to Snowmass Village is something of a coup for the Ranch and CORE. The American photojournalist-turned-artist’s climate-themed work has made him one of the most prominent artists and activists in the world.
Immediately after the local exhibition, he has prestigious openings of “We Are the Asteroid” works at the Venice Biennale in Italy and at Somerset House in London, where he is filling a courtyard with “We Are the Asteroid” signs.
In addition to his conceptual artwork, Guariglia developed the free After Ice app, which shows users the projected water levels at their location in 2080 after the polar ice caps melt. It’s been downloaded by more than 13 million people, and Guariglia is expected to release a new version of the app on Earth Day (April 22).
A committed climate activist, Guariglia has also made an artwork of himself: He has tattooed on his arm a graph demonstrating the rise in Earth’s average temperature and carbon dioxide levels since the industrial revolution.
His work is aimed at starting conversations, changing viewers’ thinking and, ideally, inspiring action.
“Good art, when it’s really effective, can give people a new vocabulary and new structures to understand the world around them,” he said. “We are in the middle of this ecological collapse and this crisis is happening around us. Action is incredibly important, but we need to think about where we are and what we need to do. Not thinking is how we got into this mess in the first place.”
Despite the despairing messages in “We Are the Asteroid,” Guariglia remains hopeful. He points to the climate strikes and student walk-outs in Europe this month, inspired by the 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, as one reason to believe that collective action will effect change. The ongoing Juliana v. U.S. lawsuit, in which young Americans are suing the government for threatening their right to life and liberty through climate inaction, is another. As that youth movement spreads around the world, he believes, the massive global action necessary to save the Earth from self-destruction is within reach.
“We are going to see kids rising up and demanding that the adults grow up and begin moving forward an agenda that lets humans survive,” he said. “What this all boils down to is mass extinction.”
We all know the facts: Human-caused climate change is causing hotter weather, more drastic drought and wildfire, rising seas, with cataclysmic effects already in evidence here in the Mountain West and most everywhere on Earth. Apocalyptic assessments from the U.S. government and the United Nations last year suggested that without radical action, life on Earth will be irreversibly changed by 2040.
“We are not guilty but we are responsible,” Guariglia said. “We know now. And with knowledge comes responsibility. So we’re at an inflective point where we have to be adults.”
The Anderson Ranch-based artist Lauren Peterson is contributing to “Imagine Climate” her sculptures made of trash, which she conceived as post-apocalyptic decoration — imagining the kinds of things people will make as decorative objects when all that’s left is the plastic and packaging that we’re tossing out everyday now.
Her “Fringely Benefiting Fried Eggs” patchworks put together found materials and trash — some of it recycled from her own past artworks — into a tent. She also has a suit she’s fashioned out of plastic bags, which Peterson plans to wear to the opening reception.
“The only reason that something becomes trash is a psychological decision to say, ‘I can’t fit this into my life anymore,’” she explained of the work. “Trash is whatever people decide is useless.”
Peterson is hopeful she can make viewers think about their part in the global warming crisis and push for global action.
“I would like people to think twice about their role in climate change,” Peterson said. “Doing things on an individual basis is great, but it’s about also talking to their legislators and leaders about it.”
Whitley has found a fruitful creative inquiry in a similar vein working with salvaged material, though her trash is much older than Peterson’s. Last year, the Art Base in Basalt hosted her installation “Still,” in which Whitley transformed antique trash she’s foraged from a Quiet Years dump in Aspen into artwork and she landed a piece from the project in the prestigious “Art of the State” show in Arvada. For “Imagine Climate,” she is building suspended sculptures with the remains of old shoe leathers from the same dumping grounds.
What’s left of the shoes, a century after they were trashed, are mostly soles and heels.
“It transforms in this really creepy way,” she said. “Making this work is a way of helping me deal with the feelings I have about the state of our environment.”
The monthlong “Imagine Climate” group show is complemented by events including an artist talk at Tuesday’s opening; a discussion March 13 at the Aspen Center for Physics with climate scientist Roger S. Pulwarty, Holy Cross Energy CEO Bryan Hannegan and artist Sarah Uhl; and a March 21 screening in Basalt of the documentary “The Human Element” with director James Balog.
“We wanted to make sure that we had different voices on climate change,” Whitley said, “so that people have different entry points for taking part in the conversation.”
All of the events will include what CORE is calling a “carbon drop station,” a portable cardboard exhibit which provides tactics for lowering your personal carbon footprint — the kinds of actions for which CORE provides free assistance — and the invitation to set personal sustainability goals by writing a letter to oneself (participants also get a chance to win an e-bike).
Success for a show like “Imagine Climate” is in getting people talking and, hopefully, getting into action.
“If we can get conversations going and get people thinking about these urgent existential issues, then I think we can say we’re being effective,” Guariglia said.