Hitting the headlines this fortnight is the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, as negotiators and world leaders discuss and map our possible routes to net zero carbon. It all comes down to commitments, finance, deals and agreements. But it all stems from the pace of change across the world, and the future of many different ecosystems, habitats and environments. Art can remind us of all this. How so, you might ask?
One artist who highlights climate change’s realities on the ground is Zaria Forman. From her home in the USA, she travels the world to capture some of the impacts of climate change in large-scale pastel drawings or paintings. To reach remote places, she sometimes takes part in expeditions or missions led by major organisations. These range from a residency on National Geographic’s Explorer (to experience winter in Antarctica) to flying with NASA’s Operation Ice Bridge over Greenland and Arctic Canada.
It’s no wonder that Zaria’s travels have focused partly on polar regions, as the Arctic and Antarctic are parts of the world where climate change may be seen most starkly. She has produced and exhibited colourful pastels of Antarctica’s ice, recreating what for most of us can be only a land of the imagination. Other locations for her work also find themselves at the epicentre of global warming – Greenland, where the ice cap is retreating and melting, and Svalbard, a remote archipelago within the Arctic Circle. It was Zaria’s pastels of ice in Antarctica and Greenland which really struck me for the way they convey the scale and the otherness of such landscapes. However, she has also travelled to warmer climes to draw different impacts, like the Maldives, where sea level is the main concern.
Other artists have also developed responses to the climate and nature emergency. One is Gennadiy Ivanov, who lives in Norwich. 2019 saw him travel to boreal forests and mountains in Canada with climate scientists from UEA. This was an opportunity to take part in a climate research project and to explore threatened nature in these settings. Nor was it focused solely on Canada, but also explored Norfolk’s own issues of coastal erosion. The project’s title “Transitions:Ice-Water-Cloud” highlights its main themes.
These two artists have travelled to specific, extreme environments where climate change may be more rapid and more obvious. By collaborating with scientists they have seized rare opportunities to experience and share in research from the inside. But any person in any country could use a pencil, paintbrush or needle to explore the climate and nature emergency from home. This could be by painting an actual or imagined lanscape; by drawing or crafting images of wildlife to mark species loss; or by painting or drawing an abstract picture to explore feelings and emotions about the emergency, maybe using colour bands or shapes. Photography can be another medium to use. All different media and styles can play a part.
Art like this becomes a tool for action and for awareness. Art can help us see nature’s beauty with new eyes, and can also highlight how threatened that beauty may be, and how threatened may be the future of all who or which depend on it.
It would be great if you’d like to share any responses to this – or any green-themed artwork of your own! – in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you!