Art For Change: Featured Artists from Anthropocities 2018
Change for Climate is a climate change initiative from the City of Edmonton.
Change for Climate is a climate change initiative from the City of Edmonton.
Artists can reflect our inadequacies, inspire hope and spur change. We feature three different art pieces from the Art for Change and Anthropocities 2018 exhibition and publication.
Small Gestures, by artist Carlene La Rue
Written by art historian Liuba Gonzalez de Armas
Pesticides, habitat loss, and climate change threaten hundreds of pollinator species. While the case of honeybees is well-known, wild solitary bees – who do not form hives or make honey – are less known. Bee hotels are human-made structures designed to provide safe nest sites for solitary bees. Carlene La Rue’s interactive mixed-media sculpture Small Gestures models a bee hotel with buzzing guests to bring attention to how we relate to these threatened species.
A key principle of sustainable design is self-sufficiency, or the capacity for something to function without external support. This idea is at the centre of Small Gestures’ design: a solar panel powers the electric toothbrush motor that animates the clay-and-plastic bees atop the cardboard structure for two minutes. No batteries are needed. La Rue, being conscious of the material footprint of her work, also chose to use only recycled materials. She explains:
“I was very conscious about reusing materials. The clay is reused waste clay from a different project, the wings are from an old file folder. All the cardboard is reused, [...] the electric toothbrush had broken so I pulled it apart and used it in this project.”
The irony of attempting to create a self-sufficient imitation of living beings is that life is rarely self-contained. Bees – like ourselves and most other species on our planet – are embedded in complex, interdependent ecosystems. The wellbeing of bees should concern us because we depend on them to pollinate the plants that produce much of the oxygen, food, and raw materials on which we rely. Not only are pollinators essential to our food systems, they cannot be replaced by technological means.
Small Gestures features exactly 46 bees. Each one represents a year since the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment which first drew global attention to the need for international cooperation on environmental protection. By echoing a local, personal gesture while referencing a global movement, La Rue’s sculpture invites us to think beyond clichés and act on all levels. To build a bee hotel and mobilize your communities to plant pollinator-friendly gardens and reject pesticides, while also petitioning elected officials to champion policies that protect pollinators. Each buzzing bee serves as a reminder that the clock is ticking and much remains to be done.
Climate change is a global problem, and it is something that affects everyone. In my own practice, it is a concern that is on my mind constantly. Making art is a privilege, but doing so in a responsible manner and ensuring that my practice is sustainable are ongoing challenges. Creating a piece where all the materials were considered, and energy used was accounted for was more difficult than my usual way of working. It was an eye-opening experience as I wanted to ensure that in creating a piece that brought awareness to climate change, I was not causing unnecessary environmental strain. Being able to show work at the Cities IPCC Conference gave me the opportunity to showcase one solution that Edmonton is working on (their bee hotel program) on a world stage, which was a tremendous honour.
Screenshot from Pilgrimage, by artist Kyle Terrence
Written by art historian Michael Woolley
Kyle Terrence sees the world as on the brink of an apocalypse, but one that is neither spectacular nor easy to comprehend. Rather, Terrence feels the world slipping toward its end “as we know it,” and his work, Pilgrimage, seeks to convey that slow, creeping dread as the landscapes around us change and become unrecognizable while still remaining familiar and ordinary. He wears a fur jacket and covers his face with an eerie mask, not unlike those worn by ‘plague doctors’. He crawls out of a swampy wetland and travels through a pastoral landscape before finding himself in the bowels of suburban industrialized society. Here, he sheds his animal skin and removes his mask before driving to the city’s edge—where ‘suburban’ and ‘wilderness’ meet—to dig his own grave and await an oncoming storm.
This video work moves slowly through landscapes that are both familiar and strange, richly textured and oozing an ironic sense of rustic charm. You can feel the water licking at your ear canals as Terrence emerges from a swampy wetland, and each of his steps sound purposeful. By contrast, his suburban existence is shrill and ill at ease; you can feel it ringing in your ears and pressing in on your head. As he drives, the car’s radio drones on, like the innocently ominous soundtrack at the beginning of a horror movie. Watching the artist dig his own grave fills you with dread, and there is almost a sense of relief when he finally finishes and lays himself down in it.
In the video’s final moments, we see through his eyes and gaze upon the artist’s own feet. Just beyond the horizon, a storm is far past the point of merely ‘gathering’. It is already upon us. Terrence isn’t making an apology. Nor is he mourning, or coming to terms with wrongs done; rather, this video depicts him experiencing and coming to understand what being in the end times really means. He allows us to feel how we are all necessarily a part of a familiar landscape that is nevertheless slowly changing into something we will eventually find unrecognizable.
As a person living in the beginning of the 21st century, I exist at the apex of a seemingly apocalyptic narrative. However, despite the potentially crushing burden of living under the looming shadow of the ecological crisis, I find it impossible to panic. At times I even find it impossible to care. My interest in climate change is focused on the unique disconnect that occurs when facing a crisis that is not only stretched across generations, but lacking the spectacle we are accustomed to in apocalyptic imagery. Pilgrimage was a journey designed to overcome my own disavowal, in hopes that I could create a more embodied way of understanding my place in this moment. Being involved in a conference and exhibition centered around climate change highlights this quest in particular by unpacking a variety of methods used to look, see, and know more about this harrowing moment.
Out of Reach, by artist Noemi de Bruijn
Written by art historian Brandi Goddard
Inspired by time spent working within Alberta’s provincial park system, Out of Reach is a visual commentary on the sometimes paradoxical relationship between someone’s personal beliefs and their actions, or lack thereof, when it comes to environmental preservation. Noemi de Bruijn’s large-scale painting depicts an isolated log cabin, created from and existing within nature. Elevated on a pedestal of towering tree trunks, the cabin is sealed off from the outside world. This provides a statement on the disconnect between humans and their natural environment. Extending from the cabin are two material forms, immersed within a chaotic swirl of colours and dangling above a pit which is reminiscent of one of Alberta’s many lakes. The trace-like form of these vessels and their geometric patterns indicate they are manufactured objects, and therefore non-natural. However, these forms also provide a connection between the closed-off cabin and the surrounding environment.
Within this painting, de Bruijn explores the relationship between a need for environmental preservation and humankind’s continued exploitation of the environment. The dangling vessels are intended to be seen as DIY planter boxes created from recycled materials. They represent the truly minuscule effort placed into conservation by much of the public but also point to the still-present possibility of engagement with and preservation of the endangered natural world. Not entirely devoid of hope, Out of Reach may be read as an environmental call-to-action to a population which has become divorced from its natural surroundings.
My work draws from experiences of belonging and displacement. Issues such as immigration, war, and culture correlate with environmental concerns and ideas of safety, or the illusion of it. The way we live in private places mirrors how we inhabit our natural landscape. It leaves marks and residues that create references to a collective history and memory.
I would like to confront the idealized concept of ‘home’ and ‘shelter’ in the form of built structures and the planet we live on. We are vulnerable where we live. We all live in consequence of each other’s actions. We are not separate, but rather connected beings. I am interested in contributing to this conversation from a multi-national viewpoint.
I combine methods of painting and drawing. I juxtapose reality and imagination as well as interior and exterior spaces in an effort to help us re-evaluate how we understand and inhabit place. Each composition includes elements from reality; as they would exist in the imaginary world, thus storytelling becomes essential to the work. I am interested in metaphors that aid in self-evaluation and awareness of our environments, both inward and outward.
Inspired by art? Make sure to check out The Works Art & Design Festival, running until July 3 at Capital Plaza on the Legislature Grounds.