This is the second in a series of blogs about my current exhibit, Sound the Climate Alarm, on display at the Lawrence Arts Center now through Dec. 21, 2020. The first blog in this series is available at this link:
Roots of Sound the Climate Alarm
My exhibit Sound the Climate Alarm includes drawings, mosaics, and collages on themes related to climate change, animal extinction, barriers, border walls, and the pandemic. My focus on climate change and related themes goes back about six years, to 2014. That summer, I had a small exhibit at the Phoenix Gallery in Lawrence called Animals. I had just read Elizabeth Kolbert’s book called The Sixth Extinction, and in it she describes and explains the mass extinction of animals that is going on today and all of the ways that this process of mass extinction is caused by human activity, including killing animals for feathers and tusks, spreading invasive species, destroying habitats, and climate change.
I began making mosaics and drawings in scratchboard and clayboard about extinction. One piece, a mosaic included in the Animals exhibit that is not in this show, focused on robins sitting in a tree (above). While one robin is in full color, the others are obscured or silhouetted to suggest that they had been here but now are gone. I also created some small black-and-white scratchboard drawings of animals in cartoon-like scenes, where the animals are leaving, or being disrupted and carried off by the character Death. I included one of these in my current exhibit, titled Death with Chicken (below), and the influence of Death appears in a more recent piece, too, Death with Cardinals (left).
Another influence on the early work in this exhibit, also from 2014, was a local community event called The People’s Climate March Maker/Speaker Party (left). I served on a committee that helped produce this event, a solidarity event with The People’s Climate March in New York City. At the march in New York, as well as at solidarity events around the globe including ours, there was a moment, at noon eastern time, where the hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the march paused to make the loudest noise they possibly could as a way to “sound the climate alarm.” The folks at the march made a huge noise; they whooped and hollered and used everything from sirens and honking horns to instruments and party blowers, to make a very loud noise.
After this experience, I became interested in the phrase “sound the climate alarm,” and made some art based on these words (right). I may have latched on to this phrase because I enjoy visualizing sound in my art, similar to how a cartoonist might visualize sound, where marks and lines stand in for the plinks, pops, buzzing, music or anything else I want the audience to visually hear.
More of those first “sound the climate alarm” pieces are in this show, too, including a mosaic with birds (below left) whose shapes are silhouetted to indicate presence and absence, with colored lines coming from their beaks to represent sound, and the sound then moves in and around human ears. If we really could hear the climate alarm, what would it sound like? Maybe the climate alarm sounds like birdsongs.
I included visual-sound in a few other “climate alarm” pieces too, including a couple small pieces with people disrupting birds with party blowers (above right), and in the piece Death with Chickens that I mentioned earlier, where Death chases a Prairie Chicken with a blaring-saxophone. The images of people blaring horns and instruments are a way to indicate the hapless disruption of animals by people unaware of their own destructive activity.
Additional influences on the work in this show include projects completed between 2014 and 2018 that are not a part of this show but share environmental themes, including two mosaic installations – a mosaic mural at the Free State Brewery in Lawrence, Kansas, and an installation of six small mosaics (above) at Bethel College Mennonite Church, in North Newton, Kansas. Also, in the Spring of 2016, I worked closely with a committee who facilitated a large-scale community project called Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change (right). It was a month-long series of cultural and educational events that involved more than fifty local artists, poets, and musicians, along with faculty and students from Lawrence’s two universities, and representatives from arts and environmental organizations. Heating Up was an exciting project and boosted my interest in responding to climate change in my own artwork, too.
In the process of looking back at my art over the past six years, I recognize that in our society and culture, value is often measured in monetary or financial terms. But artists can represent a different kind of value through the language of art – beauty, care, alarm, loss, grief, pathways, possibilities. In my next blog, I will share ideas about how I have used themes and symbols as part of this language in the more recent work that I have in this show.
Visit my exhibit in-person at the Lawrence Arts Center, now through Dec. 21, 2020. Original art and artist prints, suitable as gifts, are available for purchase. Hours are M-Th 9am-9pm, F-Sa 9am-7pm, and Su 1:30-7:30 pm. As Covid-19 rages on, the Arts Center is pretty low-key these days and it is likely that during a random visit to my exhibit you may find yourself alone in the space. If you would prefer a virtual tour, scroll down the page at this link, courtesy of the Lawrence Arts Center.