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The art of war against climate change

Email|Print| Text size + By Amy Farnsworth
Globe Correspondent / February 10, 2008

In the video, a pregnant woman dances in the aisles of an Indonesian supermarket, plunking packages of instant noodles into her shopping cart while behind her fires are ravaging trees, leaving behind a desolate landscape.

When Boston artist Michael Sheridan saw the pollution rising from the forests of Indonesia from his apartment window in Bandung, where he is completing art installations as a senior Fulbright scholar, he was inspired to create a new work, this one documenting the environmental impact of palm oil and its use in processed foods.

Sheridan is part of a group of Massachusetts artists who have banded together to generate discussion on global warming through their exhibition, "Greed, Guilt and Grappling: Six artists Respond to Climate Change," in the Mills Gallery at the Boston Center for the Arts. The exhibition, which runs through March 30, surveys the damage linked to climate change by forging unique connections between art and the environment.

Subtle, hand-painted carbon footprints trail along the walls of the Mills Gallery. They were painted by artist Lajos Heder of Cambridge, using the charred residue of California wildfires. People leave their own carbon footprints, too. On a wall of the gallery, one anonymous visitor's sketch carries the note, "I feel guilty for enjoying my cab ride."

Outside the BCA, Cambridge artist John Taguiri has constructed an igloo out of giant ice cubes to measure the effects of climate change through a New England winter. Inside the gallery, Taguiri displays a contrasting igloo made out of coal. He hopes people will climb inside and ponder their own effects on the earth.

Artist Jay Critchley took a rather different approach to climate change, traveling up and down the East Coast to film people yawning for his two-channel video installation. Critchley, of Provincetown, was fascinated when he discovered research indicating that yawning helps to cool the brain, and was inspired to draw an artistic connection between cooling one's body and cooling the planet.

To encourage people to be proactive about the environment, the artists are also taking their artwork beyond the gallery walls and onto the streets.

Every week, Taguiri asks people he encounters to dress up like the Statue of Liberty with a unique twist: He replaces the symbolic torch with a compact fluorescent light bulb, which he then gives to each participant after snapping a photo to capture the tableau. He wants to "energize people and make them feel empowered to do something about the environment" through his project.

In Allston, "Greed, Guilt and Grappling" cocurator Clara Wainwright walked along Harvard Avenue near her art studio while wearing cotton robes displaying endangered species, including the brown bear and African elephant. The Brookline artist hopes to generate conversations about climate change through her "Eco-Shaman Walkabout Project," by drawing people to her workshops. There, she asks visitors to try on her robes and ponder the declining number of endangered species across the planet.

"If you bring up the subject of global warming, they don't want to talk about it for more than a minute," Wainwright said.

By wearing the robes, she said, "people would be curious and engage in conversation and then you could perhaps discuss the fate of that particular animal."

The BCA exhibition's other curator, Mags Harries of Cambridge, also aims to provoke conversation. This goal prompted her to use 13 tables to create a single surface, measuring 14 feet by 6 feet, with each section needing the support of adjacent ones to stay standing. Her "One Legged Table" will serve as the gathering spot for four dinner conversations on climate change during the exhibition.

Her first dinner, slated for tomorrow, will feature the Food Project, a nonprofit organization with a Dorchester branch that helps educate students about sustainable agriculture.

Amy Farnsworth can be reached at afarnsworth@globe.com.

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