Susan Hoffman Fishman and Leslie Sobel met in 2019 at a virtual “mixer” sponsored by SciArt Initiative for artists and scientists who either were already working together or who wanted to work together collaboratively. Hoffman and Sobel quickly determined that their mutual interests in water and the climate crisis overlapped. Looking for ways to collaborate, they applied for and were awarded a joint residency in 2021 during the height of the COVID pandemic at Planet Labs, a global satellite imaging company based in San Francisco. Planet had created its residency program to see what happened when artists were given access to their scientists and satellite resources. Because of COVID, the three-month residency ended up being entirely virtual.
Although each of them focused on satellite images of different phenomena—Susan with sinkholes around the Dead Sea and in Siberia and Leslie with Harmful Algae Bloom in Lake Erie and glacial melt in the Arctic—the artists felt that the work they were producing “could easily become a collaborative exhibition on the devastation happening to global bodies of water and the extraordinary beauty of that devastation.” This exhibition came to life at Stand4 in Brooklyn and will be on view through February 19th, 2024.
What drew you to sinkholes and glacial melt?
Susan Hoffman Fishman: When I started the residency, I knew I wanted to look at bodies of water that had been impacted by the climate crisis. I had heard that the Dead Sea was shrinking dramatically, so I decided to look at it first. What I found were changes that even the geologist I was working with was astonished by. After conducting extensive research, I learned that over 8000 sinkholes have developed along the coastline of the Sea, making it so dangerous that most former tourist areas are now inaccessible to the public. The significant loss of water in the Dead Sea has been caused by three factors – climate change that promoted evaporation on a much greater scale; the damning of the Jordan River that used to provide new water into the Sea; and, most importantly, large amounts of water taken from the Sea on a daily basis to extract minerals for Israel’s cosmetic industry. As the water along the shoreline retreats, the land where water once existed collapses into sinkholes.
Once I started working on sinkholes, I discovered that they are occurring in many other areas of the world, including in Siberia. Due to increasing temperatures from climate change, permafrost in the high latitudes is melting, causing methane, which has been stored for millions of years, under the permafrost, to be released. The methane explodes, creating thousands of sinkholes. Looking at the sinkholes via satellites, it became very clear to me both how much irreversible damage has been done to the Earth’s natural resources and the beauty of the devastation.
Leslie Sobel: I’ve focused for a long time on the effects of climate change on the development of Harmful Algae Bloom in bodies of water such as Lake Erie, which is located near where I live. Harmful Algae Blooms are an enormous problem worldwide, caused by the confluence of pollution/fertilizer run-off and climate change. They are both environmentally significant and oddly beautiful – becoming severe enough at times to shut down municipal water systems and kill animals.
I have also been especially interested in the high altitudes and how the climate crisis is causing extreme glacial melt. Glacial melt is already altering access to fresh water worldwide and will lead to significant sea level rise. During the Planet residency, I focused on these phenomena. My interest in both issues connects the deleterious effects of these conditions on people and ecosystems with compelling visual images. Because I have participated in a number of residencies in the high latitudes, including the Arctic, my work combines both what I have seen looking at satellite images as well as what I have experienced on the ground.
Tell us a bit about what we will see in the show.
Susan Hoffman Fishman and Leslie Sobel: We have purposely hung the exhibition so that each of the gallery rooms contains both of our works. In the larger of the two main spaces are Susan’s two large mixed media paintings on paper, measuring 51” x 51,” depicting the sinkholes at the Dead Sea and the Siberian Taiga; her two 16” x 16” mixed media paintings on board, one of which is below and one of her five cyanotype scrolls of Siberian sinkholes These are in “conversation” with Leslie’s large mixed media painting (30” x 51”) of shrunken glaciers on paper and a small (12” x 12”) painting of Arctic black sands.
In the hallway and in the smaller gallery are Susan’s additional four cyanotype scrolls of Siberian sinkholes, her two artist books on desertification, and a triptych of the Dead Sea sinkholes. Leslie’s work in these spaces includes two artists’ books, a diptych on Harmful Algae Bloom, and five additional works on a panel of Harmful Algae Bloom and Glacial Melt.
Installation view of main gallery space @Stand4 Gallery. (L to R) Leslie Sobel, Isfjorden Used to Freeze Over, mixed media on Arches Oil, 30” x 51,” 2023; Susan Hoffman Fishman, The Earth is Breaking Beautifully VII, acrylic, oil pigment, satellite images, cyanotype and mixed media on paper, 51” x 51,” 2023; Susan Hoffman Fishman, The Earth is Breaking Beautifully: Siberian Taiga, acrylic, oil pigment, satellite images, cyanotype and mixed media on paper, 51” x 51,” 2023.
About Stand4 Gallery: Founded in January 2017 as an artist-run initiative, Stand4 Gallery and Community Art Center’s pursuit is to be alive and working towards a better world through the arts as an active medium of engagement. Stand4 serves as a generator of meaning, action, agency, collaboration, and social justice. Stand4 is meant to exist as a catalyst: a way to envision a more socially and environmentally just future.