When it comes to highlighting world issues, the art world is no stranger. And there’s a new crop of international artists tackling climate change using water as their medium to challenge how we see the world.
Climate change is even more at the top of the world agenda with the recent news that President Donald Trump announced his plan to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. This environmental accord was agreed upon by 195 countries at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference to mitigate global warming.
Trump’s decision comes at a time when many scientists and environmental experts believe we should be doing more to curb climate change, not less.
Even on an issue of such importance, art has its own role to play. Artists are perfectly equipped to use their creative outlets to show support for, protest against, and spread awareness of political and global policies they are passionate about. From Pablo Picasso’s Guernica which brought attention to the victims of the Spanish Civil War, to Norman Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With which directly addressed racism in 1960s America, great art inspires us to think, communicate and act.
It’s no different now. Using water as their medium, these international artists are creating works that challenge the way we see the planet and see ourselves in relation to nature. British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor and Italian sculptor Lorenzo Quinn both debuted their artworks inspired by climate change at the 57th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale.
Taylor, best known for his underwater museums and sculpture parks that double as artificial reefs, exhibited a sculpture on coral bleaching, alongside photographs and videos of other submerged works, at the Grenada Pavilion in Venice. Taylor’s sculptures eventually become reefs; in his artist’s statement, he explains how they are “constructed using pH-neutral materials to instigate natural growth, create new habitats [for marine life] and attract visitors away from natural fragile marine areas.”
His sculptures are of humans, many of which are captured in identifiable, everyday situations (children in a playground; businessmen heading to work). “All of these are indicative of the daily actions of humanity, living above the waves, often oblivious to the impact each of their actions can have on the environment,” says Taylor. As the sculptures transform into homes for living organisms, the appearance of the art changes, reflecting the constantly changing conditions of the planet.
Quinn’s installation, Support, features a pair of large hands reaching out of Venice’s Grand Canal and gripping the exterior of the 14th-century Ca’ Sagredo Hotel. Made from resin-coated polyurethane foam, the sculpture symbolizes the rising sea levels that threaten Venice’s future. “I wanted to make a statement on climate change and the role people must play in supporting Venice’s unique world heritage,” says Quinn. “The hand holds so much power—the power to love, to hate, to create, to destroy.”
Taylor and Quinn both incorporate human elements into their pieces. It’s their way of holding humanity accountable for the ways we’ve hurt the environment, but also to show how we can help preserve it. Meanwhile, Australian photographer Murray Fredericks uses the environment to connect with viewers on the human condition, and Japanese art collective teamLab uses man-made technology to allow people feel closer to nature.
Nowadays, many of us tend to be more interested in our own physical beauty than the beauty of the world around us; that’s according to Fredericks in his new series, Salt: Vanity, currently on display in London’s Hamiltons Gallery. Fredericks photographs large mirrors in the middle of Australia’s shallow Lake Eyre. By taking our most valuable possession, a mirror, and using it to reflect nature instead, he brings attention to humanity’s plague of narcissism. “The mirror can be seen as emblematic of our obsession with ourselves, individually, and collectively,” Fredericks explains. “In [this] series, rather than reflecting our own ‘surface’ image, the mirror is positioned to draw our gaze out and away from ourselves, into the environment, driving us towards an emotional engagement with light, color and space.”
teamLab, a collective focused on digital art, has created a 3D virtual waterfall, Universe of Water Particles—Gold, as part of a larger exhibit, Living Digital Forest and Future Park, currently on display at the Pace Gallery in Beijing. The computer-generated golden waterfall consists of hundreds of thousands of water particles, ‘poured’ onto a virtually sculpted rock. A computer calculates the movement of the particles to produce a simulation of water that flows in accordance with the laws of physics.
“When viewing this artwork, regardless of the fact that the waterfall is a reproduction of physical phenomena, it can be possible to feel a sense of life,” says teamLab. “Rather than a waterfall shot using a video camera, people feel the barrier between themselves and the waterfall dissolve; they become immersed in the work as if the waterfall is luring them in. If we regard ourselves as part of nature, and consider nature as something not just to be observed, it is possible to feel that there is no boundary between ourselves and nature.”
Jason deCaires Taylor’s installation at the Official National Pavilion of Grenada, and Lorenzo Quinn’s sculpture, Support, will be on display in Venice until November 26, 2017.
Murray Fredericks’ series Salt: Vanity will be on display in London until June 14, 2017.
teamLab’s Universe of Water Particles—Gold will be on display in Beijing until October 10, 2017.