It’s rare to find an artist who isn’t somewhat concerned with the climate crisis. Art is one of the most impactful mediums for provoking emotion. The art community has the potential - and dare we say the responsibility - to make the public confront the reality of our environmental situation.
Art has the unique advantage of creating a much more visceral emotional reaction in their audience than other informative mediums, like articles or op-eds. Art can touch a myriad of individuals, young and old. In this article, we look at a few examples of art pieces, exhibitions and museums that contribute to the climate change discourse in a provocative way.
Olafur Eliasson - Ice Watch
Olafur Eliasson is a highly influential artist. He makes art accessible to many who would otherwise not be interested in the medium. He’s also one of the most prominent artists when it comes to finding interactive ways of showcasing climate change. An example of this is his Ice Watch piece, in front of the Tate Modern, which included 30 blocks of glacial ice that he extracted from Greenland. The temporary installation - because the ice was melting! - was there to remind people of the impacts of climate change.
Robert Smithson - Spiral Jetty
Although it wasn't created with the explicit intention of discussing climate change, Robert Smithson’s monumental spiral jetty was made with the understanding that nature would change the piece, leading to its decay. “Natural entropy” was something that Smithson was very passionate about. Installed on the Great Salt Lake in Utah, his beautiful spiral of 6,000 tons of rock reappears and disappears as the environment changes. What he perhaps didn’t anticipate was that climate change would impact his work in a different way, and that his work would become a discussion point around the topic. Since 2002, droughts in Utah have meant that his piece has consistently remained above the water line and that the reddish water is no more, instead, the rocks are covered in salt crystals. Interestingly, the jetty was used by eco-activists and artists to stop a nearby oil-drilling site!
Plasticide - Jason deCaires Taylor
This artwork, commissioned by Greenpeace, is Jason deCaires Taylor’s most overtly political piece. It calls on consumer goods companies, plastic packaging producers, and policymakers to prevent plastic from entering marine environments, whilst pulling at the heartstrings of passersby. In Plasticide, a family beach outing is overshadowed by the horrific image of a seagull vomiting plastic. Some may find this perhaps too literal, but it managed to make a clear impression on the masses with its central location on the South Bank.
The Substitute - Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg
Eco-visionaries is a multi-venue exhibition and European-wide collaboration. Having kick-started in Lisbon’s stunning MAAT museum, this exhibition reflected on climate risks imposed by the Anthropocene, including resource depletion, food shortages and species extinction. One of our favourite pieces was The Substitute by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg: a digitalised white rhino, that is now-extinct, roaming a 5m screen. The idea that a species would be recreated in digital form poses questions on what the future may look like post-Anthropocene. It is striking to be in the same room as an extinct species, gone because of poaching, whose loss reverberates across its ecosystem as biodiversity continues to be negatively impacted by humans.
Museu do Amanhã
This incredibly provocative museum, based in Rio de Janeiro, is one of the first large science museums in the world to focus on sustainable cities, ecology, and how our lifestyles impact our future. Appropriately named the museum of tomorrow, the space uses digital and interactive installations to provoke and educate the audience around the Cosmos, the Earth, the Anthropocene, “Tomorrow” and “Us”. One of the most memorable installations at the museum was in the Anthropocene section. Six totems, ten meters in height, loomed over the audience, somewhat reminiscent of Stonehenge. On these totems, screens show dramatic scenes of how humans impact the Earth. It’s really something else.
These are our personal favourites, so please write to us if you have other suggestions to add. We'd love to hear from you!