18 Green Artists Who Are Making Climate Change And Conservation A Priority
“The quality of place, the reaction to immediate contact with earth and growing things that have a fugal relationship with mountains and sky, is essential to the integrity of our existence on this planet,” the famous American photographer Ansel Adams wrote in his autobiography. From the romantic painters of the late 18th century to Adams to contemporary figures like Pedro Reyes and Agnes Denes, artists have long had a fascination — and deep respect — for the planet on which we exist.
With the words “global warming” and “climate change” never far from the headlines, artists like Adams and co. are more relevant than ever. Tying together the scientific and creative worlds in acts of beauty and activism, sculptors, painters, photographers and more have the power to make environmentalism a priority and bring green initiatives to the forefront of cultural conversations. Behold, 18 green artists who are making climate change and conservation a priority.
1. Olafur Eliasson’s Icebergs
Olafur Eliasson. Your waste of time. 2013. Installation view of EXPO 1: New York at MoMA PS1. Photo: Matthew Septimus.
For “Your waste of time,” Olafur Eliasson displayed pieces of ice that broke off from Iceland’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. Exhibited in a refrigerated gallery space powered by solar panels, the ice “sculptures” represented 800 years of Earthly existence, putting human’s physical experience in perspective. “The obvious lesson of Mr. Eliasson’s installation, ‘Your waste of time,’ is that global warming is wreaking havoc on nature,” Ken Johnson wrote in The New York Times last year.
2. David Maisel’s Photographs of Open Pit Mines
David Maisel, The Mining Project (Butte, Montana 9), 1989, Archival Pigment Print, 2013, 48 x 48 inches, Edition of 5, Courtesy of the artists and Haines Gallery
At first glance, David Maisel’s gorgeous photographs seem to celebrate the natural beauty of another planet, but his deep blue swirls and red craters actually depict the aerial appearance of environmentally impacted sites in the United States transformed by water reclamation, logging, military tests and mining. “With the mining sites, I found a subject matter that carried forth my fascination with the undoing of the landscape, in terms of both its formal beauty and its environmental politics,” Maisel writes on his website.
3. Luzinterruptus’ Waste Labyrinth
The art collective Luzinterruptus has a history of tackling political and social issues in Europe. The “Labyrinth of Plastic Waste” is but one example.
“We were looking to demonstrate, in a poetic manner, the amount of plastic waste that is consumed daily,” Luzinterruptus explained in a statement. “In addition to focusing attention on the big business of bottling water, which leads to very serious problems in developing countries, whose citizens have watched as their aquifers have been privatized with impunity for the exclusive enrichment of large business owners and ruling classes without scruples.”
4. Amanda Schachter and Alexander Levi’s Harvest Dome
Architects Amanda Schachter and Alexander Levi‘s massive “Harvest Dome 2.0,” assembled from 450 umbrellas and 128 bottles, once floated around the inlet of Inwood Hill Park in New York City. Deemed a piece of “performance architecture,” the 24 by 18-foot structure further proves the world’s garbage can we reused in many unexpected ways.
5. John Sabraw’s Toxic Sludge Paintings
Using toxic runoff found in the Ohio River region, artist and professor John Sabraw produces his own DIY pigments — bold yellows and reds that are sourced from the oxidized sludge of abandoned coal mines. Rather than using imported iron oxide from China to make his paint colors, he taps into the water’s heavy metals left over from abandoned coal mines, bringing to light the region’s pollution problem in the process.
“The artist, like the scientist, has a crucial role to perform in our society,” Sabraw explained to HuffPost. “See things differently, act on this vision, report the failures and successes.”
6. Naziha Mestaoui’s Virtual Forests
Naziha Mestaoui‘s “One Beat One Tree” projects virtual forests onto city spaces, blurring the boundaries between the natural world and advancing technology. The digital trees actually grow in rhythm with a person’s heartbeat, as viewers can connect to the series via a smart phone sensor. And with each virtual plant, a physical one is grown in regions throughout the world, from Europe and Latin America to Africa and Asia. Since its inception two years ago, the project has already sparked the growth of 13,000 trees.
7. Rachel Sussman’s Oldest Things
Photographer Rachel Sussman has been traveling the globe for the past 10 years, searching for the world’s oldest living things with camera in tow. From the Mojave Desert to the Australian Outback to Greenland’s icy expanses, she captures portraits of organisms capable of lasting for 80,000 years, shining a light on our planet’s resilience in the face of human intervention. “Extreme longevity can lull us into a false sense of permanence,” Sussman wrote for Brain Pickings. “But being old is not the same as being immortal.”
8. Barry Underwood’s Electric Landscapes
Combining elements of painting, photography, performance, cinema and land art, Barry Underwood renders environmental issues like light pollution and deforestation in electric splendor.”My attempt is to portray environmental issues that are not delivered in a heavy-handed way,” Underwood explained to HuffPost. “Rather in a way that draws attention in a pleasing way, then if contemplated could unfold a message of dissidence or a natural discord.”
9. Paulo Grangeon’s 1,600 Pandas.
French sculptor Paulo Grangeon used an unlikely medium to illuminate the reality of animal endangerment across the world. For his traveling exhibit, “Pandas on Tour,” he created 1,600 papier-mâché bears meant to represent the actual number of pandas left on the planet (recent estimates actually place the number slightly below that, at 1,596). Launched in 2008 in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund, Grangeon’s project has traveled to landmarks in more than 20 countries, including the Eiffel Tower.
10. Daan Roosegaarde’s Vacuum
Ask a Dutch artist to solve the problem of blanket pollution in Beijing and what do you get? If you’ve tracked down Daan Roosegaarde, you’ll get “Smog,” a system of underground copper coils meant to suck up airborne particles using an electrostatic field. It’s like a vacuum cleaner that operates on a similar principle to statically charged balloons.
11. Aida Sulova’s Trash Cans
A Kyrgyz street artist named Aida Sulova confronted the rampant garbage problem in Bishkek by using trash bins as a canvas. According to Wooster Collective, the street artist pastes photographic images of open mouths on garbage cans throughout the city to “remind people that what they throw into the world, eventually ends up inside us.”
12. Chris Jordan’s Portraits of Consumption
Cell phones #2, Atlanta 2005
Photographer Chris Jordan puts consumption into perspective with his series “Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption.” His works show the debris we as a society leave behind, from massive dumps of cell phones, to crushed cars and circuit boards, all squeezed together in hypnotic quantities. “I am appalled by these scenes, and yet also drawn into them with awe and fascination,” Jordan explained in an email to The Huffington Post. “The immense scale of our consumption can appear desolate, macabre, oddly comical and ironic, and even darkly beautiful; for me its consistent feature is a staggering complexity.”
13. Gabriel Orozco’s Found Objects
For the 2012 installation “Sandstars,” Gabriel Orozco arranged over 1,200 objects from the Isla Arena, Mexico trash repository on the Guggenheim Museum’s floor, accompanied by a dozen large, gridded photographs depicting the individual objects in a studio setting. The found treasures bring hints of the ignored wastelands into a gallery setting, forcing viewers to confront the effects of industrial and commercial refuse.
14. rAndom International’s Rain Room
The 2013 phenomenon that was the “Rain Room“ invited MoMA viewers to experience a deluge of falling water without getting wet. According to the museum’s description for the exhibition EXPO 1: New York, “the work invites visitors to explore the roles that science, technology, and human ingenuity can play in stabilizing our environment.”
15. Agnes Denes’s Wheatfields
Agnes Denes, Wheatfield, 1982, Courtesy of the artist and Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects
Agnes Denes is a giant among land artists. Her most well-known project is probably the 1982 piece “Wheatfield — A Confrontation,” in which she planted a field of golden wheat on two acres of a landfill near Wall Street and the World Trade Center in Manhattan. She weeded, irrigated and cultivated the mini oasis, bringing the essence of rural America into the throngs of America’s urban epicenter. The confrontation was between nature and artifice.
16. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Surrounded Islands
Christo and the late Jeanne-Claude are well known for their massive land artworks that serve to remind viewers of the natural wonders scattered around the planet. For “Surrounded Islands,” the two artists encircled 11 islands in Biscayne Bay, Miami with 6.5 million square feet of floating pink woven polypropylene fabric. In the process, they cleaned up 40 tons of garbage from the floating land masses.
17. Mathilde Roussel’s Living Sulptures
French artist Mathilde Roussel created a series of living grass installations that take the shape of human beings. Made of recycled material and fabric filled with soil and wheat grass seeds, the pieces are meant to symbolize the centrality of food. “Observing nature and being aware of what and how we eat makes us more sensitive to food cycles in the world — of abundance, of famine — and allows us to be physically, intellectually and spiritually connected to a global reality,” the artist explains.
18. Pedro Reyes’ Grasshopper Burgers
Queens Museum, courtesy Laila Bahman
For “The People’s United Nations (pUN)” exhibition at Queens Museum in New York, Mexican artist Pedro Reyes made climate change and geo-engineering points of focus for his diplomatic performance piece. He even served grasshopper burgers during a lunch break to participants in the 193-person assembly to highlight the carbon footprint of meat. “Protein from insects is the way of the future,” the artist proclaimed to HuffPost.
By: Katherine Brooks