Artists participating in sustainable exhibitions every now and then is one thing: for artists to commit to ongoing sustainable initiatives is another level of dedication entirely. From protesting for sustainable energy sources to thwart climate change to using their platform as a creative powerhouse to publicize our need to prioritize environmental concerns, artists have taken on sustainability as an urgent issue. Embracing these aspects of our changing world, visual and performing artists are empowered to seek out solutions and bring these to fruition.
Whether artists are embracing plastics polluting our oceans to CO2 in our atmosphere, we can take away lessons from these artists’ dedication and commitment to seeking more sustainable alternatives to ensure that our future looks brighter than we could have ever imagined.
Sustainability Re-Imagined by Artists
It’s 2015, and an artist proposed a project set in the Western Sahara. Is it a sculpture? Maybe it’s a performance artwork? Neither, yet it’s still art: Mel Chin is focused on creating new sustainable energy for nomadic tribes centered along the border between Algeria and Morocco. Bearing the title “The Potential Project”, this initiative sought to allow this community of desert dwellers both a path to potential political autonomy and the ability to provide power off the grid by capturing solar power readily available in the “Sahel” (Borderland Sahara region.) Chin is an artist who already works tirelessly to enact positive social justice reforms, and this move into securing a greener future for the world’s residents, internationally, demonstrates a continued commitment to that very effort. For Americans, Chin sets the reality of our current climate into an example a bit closer to home. “New York City climate-change scenarios project that by 2100 water levels will rise by up to six feet,” notes Chin to the New York Times. “While this possibility is a long way off, what we do in the present will affect the future and determine the outcome of rising oceans.”
Artist Eve Mosher also tackles issues related to rising sea levels and climate change in her research-based practice. Mosher’s practice centers around New York City, and as such she is also featured in the Times’ article around climate change and the arts. “Artists have the capacity to shape climate communications, solutions and engagement. We can use our unique skill sets to heal communities, tackle complex challenges and even create innovative answers,” observes Mosher. “For me, comprehending the science is the first step in defining a project. Understanding the impacts, predictions, remediation and adaptation help to ground the work in reality.” Her ongoing project, liquid city, explores the dynamic changing environments of New York City’s waterways and rising levels that threaten to engulf swathes of the city. An interdisciplinary database and resource for artists, community organizers, and more, the project serves as a real-time gauge of how the city’s waterways are integral to the greater community while also tracking their potential for causing destruction in the city a la Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Whether supplying statistics and data or proposing and enacting real solutions to engender systemic change, artists have proven they are ready to rise to the challenge and do what it takes to bring communities together around climate change!
Artists Living Advocacy
Some artists take their principles to the gallery floor, incorporating their beliefs around climate change and conservation directly into their practice. Whether originating from incidents in their personal background or from experiencing natural disasters, either firsthand or through the eyes of others, many artists adopt sustainability as a primary impetus behind their artmaking. One artist whose practice firmly embodies this ethic is Cannupa Hanksa Luger. Luger, who is of Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota, Austrian, and Norwegian descent, grew up between the Standing Rock Reservation and Arizona, and his Mirror Shield Project brought attention to the protests in 2016 at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Luger defended his community while also spreading awareness for the need for empathy and conflict resolution in the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Christi Belcourt is an indigenous Michif visual artist and a key member of the Onaman collective, and has received numerous accolades from the Canadian government. Her work is fiercely protective of the environment and indigenous autonomy, and her work is in direct opposition to the government’s reliance on oil tar sands pipelines. Her work as part of the Onaman collective incorporates natural materials such as fungi and other naturally occurring substances to draw attention to how the environment serves as both canvas and substance in artmaking. “All life, even the rocks, need to be treated with respect,” notes Belcourt. “The sacred laws of this world are respect and reciprocity. When we stop following them, we as a species are out of balance with the rest of the world.”
Other artists demonstrate a commitment to climate change and conservation by marching in the street during protests and demonstrations or donating art for benefits. The range of ways that artists contribute to fighting climate change is as varied as the types of art these creatives can make. While some artists are vocal about their support of environmental stewardship, others are happy to promote green initiatives and sustainability behind the scenes. By supporting organizations and creating opportunities aligned with their artistic practice, artists can be innovators making the world a greener, more sustainable place for everyone.
Know about emerging artists who are driving system-wide change for a more sustainable future? Are you working on projects that involve ocean levels, climate change and renewable energy? Share your sustainability insights in the comments below!