Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Wilderness based science-inspired art and why I need to go

Anyone who has followed my work for any length of time knows about my deep interest and concern with climate change. My work has incorporated and been influenced by scientific images and data for many years over a variety of subject matters but especially since I've been making climate/environmentally focused work. And people who know me also know that I'm an avid hiker who loves to get out into the backcountry. People have asked me why I like to get into the field and what the relationship between that lived experience and scientific concepts have in my art-making.

There are a number of reasons. First and foremost is my need to connect a deep emotional experience with scientific understanding. I'm the daughter of two scientists in a family full of scientists so I grew up always expecting a scientific baseline to discussing things. I am not a technical illustrator nor do I want to just make graphs and charts. To make art about climate I need to experience it, be in it and see what we are losing as we do a variety of highly unhealthy things to the planet. (This is also where I acknowledge that habitat and species loss are also extremely problematic and are connected with climate issues - basically we are terrible stewards of this planet and it's not like we have a spare.)

In 2013 I did a month long residency at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (CANM), working with scientists as part of a program pairing artists with scientists in 6 different biomes as part of the celebration of the centennial of the national parks. This residency turned out to be all about learning how the Ancestral Puebloans disappearance was largely due to climate change - they deforested, overgrazed and overhunted the area and when resources became scarce society fell apart. Archeologists showed me the evidence - late Puebloan burials which were massacre sites, middens with mouse and chipmunk remains rather than deer and antelope from earlier more prosperous times. It was a sobering trip punctuated by enormous rainstorms which caused $2 billion of damage in Boulder and kept us out of the field on multiple occasions. I've written extensively about that experience on this blog and it led to multiple series of paintings and monotypes.

This May I went to Kluane National Park in the Yukon Territory accompanying a group of climate scientists who study ice to find out about how the climate is changing over long periods of time. Karl Kreutz and Seth Campbell led the group and very generously allowed me to join them.  Karl is a Professor who uses ice core chemistry to study the Earth's climate history primarily within the last 15000 years. Seth is a Research Assistant Professor who uses geophysics and modeling to study glacier systems in the Arctic and Antarctic. We were on the Eclipse Ice Field - the largest non-polar ice field on the planet where they and their team took ice cores to measure changes in CO2 levels over millennia and did ground penetrating radar to study the changes in the ice - they have worked on this site for many years.

Coming back around to that question of why go - the high latitudes are quite different than the parts of the world where most of us spend our time. And they are places that are endangered thanks to climate change. One example many are familiar with is the paucity of glaciers remaining at Glacier National Park. There is an emotional and a visual hit to going someplace dramatic, beautiful and endangered. I want to make artwork that resonates both intellectually and emotionally about a complicated scientific set of ideas – how better than to go to the places in question with the scientists studying them and bring that experience back into the studio?

From the photos in this post you can see that it's a stark and beautiful landscape. It was very cold, very quiet and very remote. Spending time there was challenging and inspiring and I am very grateful to Karl and Seth for letting me join them! 

Coming up - posts about what the trip was like, what I learned and more including the week I spent at Kluane Lake Research Station after time at Eclipse.  Also an article in the REI Newsletter in the near future. All photos in the post are mine and are of the Eclipse and its surrounds.

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