Explicitly environmental art – works that address human-made threats to local and global ecologies – only emerged after the publication in 1962 of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” the famous expose on chemical pesticides. , which have made pollution an urgent national cause. On April 22, 1970, images of burning rivers, oil spills and animal casualties prompted 20 million Americans – one-tenth of the US population at the time – to stage protests in cities across the country for clean water and air. Artist Robert Rauschenberg, who grew up despising the bad smells of the oil refinery in his heavily polluted hometown of Port Arthur, Texas, responded with “Earth Day,” a poster to benefit the American Environmental Foundation , the same year: Black-and-white photographs of pitted landscapes, factories, trash, and an endangered gorilla surround a nicotine-brown image of a bald eagle. Nature had ceased to be a pure and timeless muse for artists, becoming instead something vulnerable that humans had abused. In 1974, photographer Robert Adams published “The New West”, a book depicting man-altered landscapes in Colorado: suburbs, shopping malls and land for sale on the outskirts of cities and towns, areas where the natural and manufactured collide and compromise each other. One and the other. This period also saw the emergence of land art – large outdoor projects interacting with nature – some of which were actively environmentalist in spirit, notably the work of Agnes Denes, whose most iconic works include an entire forest planted in Finland between 1992 and 1996.
More recently, artists have made these stretched borders their canvas. Mary Mattingly, who grew up in a Connecticut farming town with polluted drinking water, focused on public works that often involve entire communities. Agitated by a century-old ordinance that prohibited foraging on public lands, Mattingly planted a garden on a barge, docking it at sites around New York City, including in the South Bronx. People who don’t have easy access to grocery stores could pick up as much fresh produce as they want. With massive crop failures and famine predicted by climatologists, the work is as much about the future as it is about the food access issues looming over the present.
Mattingly’s new project “Limnal Lacrimosa” is currently playing at an old brewery in Kalispell, Mont. Melting snow on the roof is funneled inside, where it flows into tear canisters – containers that ancient Roman mourners used to collect their tears. The water overflows, spills onto the ground, before being pumped out again. The space reverberates with drops that retain “a kind of abstract ice time,” she says: slower when it’s cold, faster when it’s warm. Inspired by accelerating melt cycles in nearby Glacier National Park, the piece is an indirect way to engage with global warming in a state where, Mattingly said, “it doesn’t always seem so realistic to talk about climate change in a way that I could in New York, where it’s fairly accepted. Yet the work has become a way to establish common ground. “The political layer comes last,” a- she said. “Usually I walk people through it and then at the end of the conversation I talk about how quickly the cycles of rain and melt change. And people are totally on board.” But if I start with climate change or even if I say “climate change” at all… you can tell that people are cringing, and they’re not really ready for it.
Mattingly’s is part of a group of works that encourage the kind of behavior essential to fighting climate change – collaboration and cooperation among strangers. What the artists behind these works have in common is their incessant questioning: how do they contribute to the disaster through their art? In 2019, painter Gary Hume (whose canvases do not depict particularly environmental subjects) asked his studio manager to research the broadcasts associated with the shipment of his works from London, where he is partly based, to New York, where he had a show. at the Matthew Marks Gallery. Danny Chivers, a climate change researcher, found that ocean freight would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 96% compared to air travel. “There was no downside,” Hume said. Shipping the work by sea was also significantly cheaper. “I was ashamed of myself that it took me so long,” he said.