Artists and Climate Change – A website by Chantal Bilodeau

Posted by on Jul 10, 2014
Artists and Climate Change – A website by Chantal Bilodeau

Image credit: Issac Cordal

A great website recently came up on the list serve for ALECC – The Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada. Artists and Climate Change gathers contemporary literature, art, and theater that addresses climate change and global warming. Chantal Bilodeau, the site’s author, is one of the people working to address the kind of point that Judy Natal made at the last CENHS symposium, when Natal said that people are going to look back on this moment and wonder why so few artists had anything to say, paint, sculpt, or dance about global warming. As a response to this question, Bilodeau’s website is a wonderful resource for anyone studying (the culture of) global warming, or just trying to derive some perverse enjoyment from it. As the quote below from Bill McKibben suggests, the site is also a source for activists looking for ways to create impact and awareness.

More and more, we see sites that are virtual museums and staging grounds for content. Notwithstanding unprecedented availability of information, and better still of art, so much of it is un-curated. Where should I look for climate change art, when the canon is only incipient?  Can I trust the search engine algorithms to understand that some texts might be relevant in an implicit, un-hashtagged way?

Following one link, I read a piece about the Galician street artist Issac Cordal, whose inundated sculptures embody affective passivity in the face of global warming. As the author, Joan Sullivan, puts it, Cement Eclipses “meticulously, precariously positions tiny statuettes in the most unexpected places – on gutters, in puddles, the edges of buildings, telephone lines, fences, bus stops, even cracks in the road – in abandoned corners of urban environments.” In other words, in the junk space of oil infrastructure.

Artists and Climate Change also guides you to some practical tools. Following another link, I found the Land Art Generator Initiative, which looks to create “public art installations that uniquely combine aesthetics with utility-scale clean energy generation.” There I came across the elegant and free-downloadable Field Guide to Renewable Energy Technologies (by Robert Ferry and Elizabeth Monoian).

This is how Bilodeau describes the site:

“In 2005, in an article called “What the Warming World Needs Now Is Art, Sweet Art,” Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, wrote that although we knew about climate change, we didn’t really know about it; it wasn’t part of the culture yet. “Where are the books? The plays? The goddamn operas?” he asked. An intellectual understanding of the scientific facts was not enough – if we wanted to move forward and effect meaningful change, we needed to engage the other side of our brains. We needed to approach the problem with our imagination. And the people best suited to help us do that, he believed, were the artists.

“It took some time for artists in the U.S. to heed the call. Perhaps the problem was too big. Perhaps it was too political. Or perhaps they were not getting the kind of institutional support that would ensure the work got “out there.” Nonetheless, obstacles eventually lifted enough to allow deeply-engaged, throughout-provoking and artistically-savvy responses to climate change to start showing up in galleries, concert halls and theaters. Finally, the cold scientific facts were being translated into human emotions. Finally, we had guidance, or at the very least a departure point for reflection. Finally, this huge, intangible issue that is climate change was being broken down into small personal components. And that was just the beginning.

“Today, interesting artistic work about climate change is popping up all over the country, in all kinds of venues. It shows up in opera houses and hip hop poetry slams, in established galleries and on-the-fly exhibitions, in off-Broadway houses and regional theatres. The goal of this blog is to track these works and gather them in one place. It is both a study of what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. I deeply believe that what artists have to say about climate change will shape our values and behavior for years to come. For that reason alone, we should pay attention.