Art Sleuth Presents at Gangwon Triennale 2021: Critics Interpret Climate Change through Art

Updated: Oct 25

The following is an excerpt from the Art Sleuth’s presentation at the Gangwon Triennale 2021, South Korea. Art critics are on the front lines of the aesthetic world, camera, and iPhone in hand, making instantaneous observations, to be pondered by art historians. Critics scrutinize exhibitions in evolving Colonial-esque museums, stroll streets sleuthing Graffiti, maneuver around site specific works, and converse at conferences with artists and historians, each desiring to spread the word that Climate Change visually expressed can result in change.

Art critics provide counterpoints too. Harking back to the Eighteenth Century Captain Cook era, when exploration and desired acquisition of the Pacific Northwest was mapped and illustrated, it became evident that these locations had abundant flora, fauna, and minerals for plundering; no one considered any environmental desecration. Today, eight Arctic countries (US/Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia) are instigative when sharing their Global Warming evidence, with help from six artists presented here, who call attention to Global Warming, either by direct observations or recycling of material goods into aesthetic metaphors.

Iñupiaq photographer Brian Adams’ Kivalina Sea Wall, Kivalina Alaska, 2007, depicts realities of Climate Change as the Northwest Coast of Alaska is eroding. Kivalina is an island of four hundred Iñupiaq residents in the Northwest Arctic Borough, which is slowly returning to the sea. Residents hunt the Bowhead whale, which becomes difficult, as ice packs grow thinner. Boxes and sandbags are a temporary fix to the actuality that endangered villages will eventually have to relocate at great expense.

Clay-sculptor Alanna DeRocchi’s Emaciated Polar Bear, 2019, drags itself, gasping for a final breath. This ceramic animal is hyper-anatomically correct and thus haunts as an object, and perplexes because it appears to exude pain, while experiencing death and loss, not only as a genuine Polar Bear and its shrinking habitat, but subjectively for our loss as humans slipping away from that which is our ‘Place’ too.

DeRocchi’s object-copy spars for attention with a genuine Polar Bear, and thus heightens awareness of its role as poster-child for Climate Change.

African-American painter Cy Gavin’s The Future of Tucker’s Point, 2016, addresses overdevelopment on Bermuda’s remaining vacant land. Gavin envisions the removal of condos and golf courses built over property once inhabited by enslaved African-Caribbeans, who appear as a ghostly apparition in paint. Gavin alludes to paradoxes in paradise, which include acknowledgement of past transgressions, the need for local employment, and the inevitability that profitable beach property development overuses water and pesticides.

Sámi/Norwegian multi-media artist Geir Tore Holm’s Fughetta, 2014, repositions reindeer carcasses into a chandelier, thus morphing Nature into an anaesthetized commodity. Holm is questioning the Norwegian government, which culls Sámi herds, the Indigenous sustenance, so grazing lands, which hold subsurface minerals, can be repurposed. Mining, however, pays for Norwegian social welfare, which includes Sámi health care.

Australian mixed-media artist Sue Ryan’s Ghost Dog, 2012, wired from abandoned fishing nets and beach thongs, calls attention to befriending neglected animals who play an important part in the Earth’s ecosystems. Today’s drifting fish nets pose greater health issues to sea creatures as they are not made of natural fibers and don’t decompose. Nets and rope can be lost in a storm or deliberately discarded, continuing to entrap and strangle marine life. Cleanup foundations exist, but don’t make a dent in floating death traps (Gyre 149-159).

Northern Cheyenne muralist James Temte’s Think Next Over Now, 2019, employs the genre of Graffiti for his billboard-esque photograph of a teen standing in a field, clasping a handful of dirt/vegetation. Some background tessellations are blank, suggesting what life might be like when Global Warming continues to alter the planet. One of the ‘handicap’ signs fetched up on the breast pocket of the youth’s jacket, looking like the garment was manufactured with that label. This photo-montage becomes a narrative for Climate Change, with this representative ‘every-youth’ cradling a piece of Earth. Yes, we are ‘handicapped’ because we can’t balance needed productivity while cleansing the environment—impacting the young, who are rightfully wary and depressed.

Art critic A.O. Scott writes, “We are far too inclined to regard art as an ornament and to perceive taste as a fixed, narrow track along which each of us travels….We trivialize art. We venerate nonsense. We can’t see past our own bullshit…. It’s the job of art to free our minds, and the task of criticism to figure out what to do with that freedom (Scott, 11, 12).” Art critics investigate the visible while contemplating the metaphorical unseen, propagating museum and community involvement, plus self-awareness for protecting local and global ‘Place’.

Mini Sleuth: ‘Better Living Through Criticism’, by A.O. Scott on Amazon.

April 3, 2006

Jean Bundy is a writer/painter in Anchorage, She serves on the board of AICA-International.

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