In the fall of 2019, Meagan Woods, an interdisciplinary artist working in dance, theatre and costume design, attended an arts/science event at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada where she was an MFA student. She was both alarmed and inspired by what she learned about the critical condition of coral reefs around the world caused by climate change. In response, she assembled a team consisting of four colleagues in the MFA Interdisciplinary Arts program and a New-Jersey based visual artist to create what eventually became an innovative, experimental opera/installation called Once She Dries. Besides Woods, the collaborative includes pianist and composer, Casper Leerink; filmmaker, photographer and installation artist, Xinyue Liu; violinist and composer, Kourosh Ghamsari-Esfahani; musician and actress, Amanda Sum; and sculptor and installation artist, Nancy Cohen.
For the last 50+ years, eco-artist and environmental activist Betsy Damon has devoted herself to community building – the coming together of individuals to achieve a common purpose. Since the 1980s, after a decade of engaging the public through public performances in New York City, she has worked at the intersection of art and science, focusing on the topic of water and on creating models for communities in the United States and China to know and become stewards of their own water sources. The brief descriptions below, highlighting four of Damon’s many exhibitions, ecological and sustainable design projects, publications, and organizations are only a brief glimpse into her prolific and important body of work.
California-based artist, writer, and researcher Christina Conklin grew up spending summers along the coast of Oregon where she first developed a relationship with and understanding of the ocean as “an infinite vessel” of ever-changing and interconnected living systems. For the last 12 years, her artwork has explored the intersection of art, science, and spirituality as it relates to the sea.
Irish visual artist and researcher Anna Macleod has spent the last 15 years exploring the environmental, economic, spiritual, political, and scientific aspects of water through interdisciplinary collaborations, performance, public interventions, and socially engaged activism.
In 2011, photographer and environmental artist Meridel Rubenstein envisioned creating a garden in southern Iraq where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers cross, near the supposed site of the biblical Garden of Eden. However, unlike its idyllic predecessor – a mythical paradise in a newly formed world – this new garden would help to heal what had become a fragile, desert wasteland by cleaning existing wastewater and establishing a culturally significant green space.
For Brooklyn-based printmaker Florence Neal, water has always been a dominant presence in her life. She grew up in Columbus, Georgia, near the Chattahoochee River, which straddles the southern half of the Alabama and Georgia borders. There she developed an appreciation for the Native American stories about the river as well as first-hand knowledge of the negative impact that the cotton and iron mills of the past and the pervasive industrial pollution had had on its health.
Many artists have begun making work related to the climate crisis in recent years. But Australian visual artist Penelope Davis decided to address the subject eight years ago. Originally trained as a photographer with a portfolio including mainly camera-less photographs, she turned to sculpture and the looming environmental disaster after observing her first jellyfish blooms along the Melbourne coastline. Although alarmed by what appeared to be an unnatural and terrifying phenomenon, she was also attracted aesthetically to the jellyfish’s semi-transparency and how they reflected light.
For over fifty years, Philadelphia-based painter, photographer, and activist Diane Burko has translated her love for large open spaces and monumental geological sites into powerful and alluring landscapes. Her exhibition at the American University in Washington, D.C. (August 28 – December 12, 2021), titled Diane Burko: Seeing Climate Change 2002 – 2021, contained 103 paintings, photographs, and time-based media depicting mountains, oceans, snow and ice, glaciers, volcanos, and fires that address the growing impact of the climate crisis.
New York-based artist and educator Jaanika Peerna grew up in Estonia during the Soviet era. Her drawings, installations, and performances all embody a sense of constant movement and change, either chaotic or orderly, that personifies the elements of water, ice, wind, air, and light. Peerna attributes many of the choices she has made about the materials she uses as well as her working methods to her childhood in her native land of ice and greyscale colors along the Baltic Sea. It was there where her body learned to embrace the movements specific to gliding on ice, where she observed the varied lines that skates made on the surface of ice, and where she mastered the use of the limited art materials available in the local Soviet-style school system – especially drawing with pencils on paper. To this day, she sees all of her work as drawing, “whether it is video or light installations, placing works in a room, drawing in space, leaving lines on paper, traces of movement and now performance.”
On May 13, 2020, in the middle of the global pandemic, the NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Center in the United Arab Emirates hosted a streaming event consisting of a four-and-a-half-hour filmed version of HOLOSCENES, a durational performance installation that was originally presented there live in November of 2016. The event also included a conversation with Lars Jan, artist, writer and project director, as well as members of his team. HOLOSCENES is comprised of performers going about common, every-day tasks while the aquarium in which they are confined fills and empties with water. Although conceived as a commentary on “states of drowning” – rising seas, melting glaciers, intensifying storms, floods, and their impact on daily life – the project takes on additional meaning as we struggle with our own physical and psychological confinements during the great global quarantine.