These Nine Artists Will Help You Understand the Future of the Planet

Source: Smithsonian/Jackie Mansky - June 28, 2017 in The Arts

These Nine Artists Will Help You Understand the Future of the Planet
Photo: NASA/Wikimedia Commons (CC0)

“We need to be activated,” says artist and architect Maya Lin. The architect who first rose to fame as the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is speaking passionately about her ongoing memorial to the planet titled “What Is Missing.” It doesn’t just reflect on loss, she says, but it also looks to the future with a hopeful eye.

Lin is one of nine artists that Joanna Marsh, the senior curator of contemporary interpretation at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, has highlighted whose artwork engages with the multifaceted challenges and perspectives of global climate change.

Artists are an integral part of this conversation. Where scientists produce and analyze mounds of data, and the media then translates that for a more general audience, artists, in the words of Marina Zurkow (another artist that Marsh selected), “can make strange or queer that affective connection.”

This can steer social and environmental change.

Once Zurkow remembers being called to serve on a panel with an astrophysicist, a journalist, and an ethics philosopher. “What was I going to say?” she says. “I felt so small for a moment, and then I realized art has tremendous power to nudge people and to hopefully create something unforgettable, something that haunts you.”

Many of the artworks discussed below can be traced back to the collaborative practices of early “eco artists” in the 1960s and ’70s, says Marsh. Those progressive artists rethought the role that art played in society by partnering with experts in a wide range of other disciplines to create projects that offered tangible solutions to pressing environmental problems.

As the movement has evolved, so has the art. Almost all of the contemporary pieces that Marsh has selected are less traditional in form in favor of providing open-ended experiences. “I was more interested in focusing on artists whose practice is collaborative in nature, interdisciplinary, and the projects are more public and even performative,” she says.

Whether that’s Eve Mosher taking to the streets with blue chalk to document rising sea levels or Mary Mattingly’s floating sculptures, see for yourself how each of the nine artworks challenges you to see pressing environmental issues in a new way:

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