How Art is Sparking Climate Action
“Out of sight, out of mind.”
This phrase refers to the lessened importance or urgency of something that is not within eyesight. Similar to the situation of climate change, for centuries, scientists, experts, and activists have urged the public to address the growing concern of climate change. While some have chosen to acknowledge and act on this information, numerous people have instead ignored this dire message, especially those who haven't experienced first-hand the grave consequences of this climate crisis. Nevertheless, climate change is here, and it is happening now. The question is, is there a way to reach people on a deeper, more impactful level and motivate them to make a change? Well, thanks to a creative group of artists who are using art to spark climate action, there might be.
Worldwide, artists are temporarily unveiling their creations to the public. Although these displays will only be up for a limited period, so is the amount of time we have left to save our planet and prevent the disastrous outcomes of climate change. All in all, each of these pieces of artwork are a profound reminder that climate change affects the entire globe. No single country can solve climate change alone, and this issue requires the efforts of every one of us.
With that said, let’s explore these artworks:
Pyramids of Garbage
Our first art piece takes us to Greater Cairo, Egypt, and it is known for its famous Pyramids of Giza, which are also the last surviving ancient wonder of the world. However, lurking in the shadows of these magnificent pyramids is an alarming waste problem.
With 17 million inhabitants, Cairo is one of the largest cities in the world, and it produces upwards of 15,000 tons of waste each day. Proper waste management has proven a difficult problem for Cairo and its citizens, leading to the emergence of numerous environmental, health, safety, and economic issues.
Enter Egyptian artist and historian Bahia Shehab, who decided to create a pyramid of her own. The twist? This pyramid is made entirely out of waste. By placing a literal pyramid of garbage in one of the most densely populated areas in Cairo, Bahia hopes to influence the public into reconsidering their consumption and waste habits.
“As a species, we have built monuments that have defeated time,” Bahia stated. “We have designed civilizations that dreamt of eternity. With climate change, this eternity is now challenged. Now is the time for us to rethink our legacy on this planet. Are we going to come together to build a sustainable future for all of us, or will our new legacy be pyramids of garbage?”
TIDE and Cloud
Around the world, oceans are rising as a result of climate change. According to National Geographic, our rapidly rising sea levels can lead to devastating consequences, such as the flooding of coastal regions, the extinction of many species, and the contamination of our farming lands and drinking water. As heightening sea levels continue to advance upon coastlines, one estimate states that, worldwide, approximately 500 million people will be at risk of displacement. Specifically, in countries like the United States, where nearly 40 percent of the population lives in coastal areas, such flooding will no doubt lead to destructive repercussions. Therefore, new media artist Matt Kenyon has created TIDE and Cloud, which are two pieces that depict the effects of rising water levels on humans.
TIDE is a fifteen-foot-tall champagne glass pyramid. Found within each champagne glass is a miniature model of a house.
These tiny houses are created with a unique material that allows them to become invisible when submerged in water, which symbolizes the homes that will be lost and the families that will be displaced if we do not take climate action immediately.
Cloud is a creative installation that, with the help of a machine, uses helium foam to produce house shapes. These helium foam houses shrink and grow in response to real-time housing and climate data, then rise in the sky.
“Both works provide a visceral representation of the next housing crisis – when homes lose their value and families are displaced due to the forces of climate change," Kenyon explains. “The viewers witness common house-ownership dreams disappear as fast as they materialize - just as many saw the false promises of their homes disappear as they were impacted upon during this period of global climate crisis.”
Throughout the planet, many human-related activities have resulted in the release of greenhouse gases, which are gases that trap the heat of the sun in the Earth’s atmosphere. Over time, this leads to the rising of temperatures worldwide, which puts many places at risk of extended drought, wildfires, heavy rain, or flooding. With that said, behold Mural Pledge, which is a vibrant, multi-coloured mural that changes colour according to the temperature outside, and it is located in Austin, Texas.
In collaboration with Michu Benaim Steiner and Kimie Flores, artist Lope Gutiérrez-Ruiz utilized thermochromic paint, which changes colour when the temperature reaches 25 degrees Celsius. This thermochromic paint allows a second image to reveal itself beneath the main one. Therefore, the mural can portray two potential, although very different futures, that show how our world would look like with and without climate action.
This time-lapse shows how the mural changes with the temperature, which reveals a negative outcome of climate change.
Gutiérrez-Ruiz says, “This artwork calls people to ‘Change the world’ and ‘Change climate change,’ underlining the importance of individual actions to the collective future.”
The Anti-Extinction Library
Internationally, a multitude of species are vanishing, and we are witnessing what experts call an “Extinction Crisis.” With 1,000,000 species at risk of extinction, architect Mitchell Joachim, designer Chris Woebken and biologist Oliver Medvedik decided to take action together and collaborated to create The Anti-Extinction Library. Located in New York City’s East River, this egg-shaped library is home to cryogenically preserved, meaning frozen, test tubes that hold the embryonic cells and DNA of rare lifeforms. Viewable by passing on a ferry, the creators designed this installation to educate citizens on the connection between climate change and species extinction. The artists commented, “Besides being cryogenically preserved, each strand of DNA has an embedded genetic maker that contains the entire “Nature Bill of Rights” modified from the UN documents on human rights. These encoded markers support a narrative that all species are equal and all are necessary to a healthy planet.”
As seen, this installation is not only a safe space for these fragile species, but it reinforces the fact that every animal on this earth has as much right to be here as we humans. Additionally, this installation has promoted public engagement, seeing as it allows members of the community to submit and recommend local species they believe require saving and preserving.
In closing, although it is said that art alone cannot change the world, art can impact the opinions, perceptions, and beliefs of human beings, and it is in this manner that art has the power to change the world. All in all, art helps us bring the climate change conversation to more audiences, and it inspires the public to join forces and work towards creating a brighter future together.