Fire and ice: a nuanced and distressing portrait of the profound effects of the climate crisis
Photo courtesy of Connecticut College.
“Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice. “This quote from Robert Frost, displayed prominently on the back wall of the Cummings Art Center gallery, perfectly sums up the essence of the exhibition, Fire and ice. It is an expression of the dire nature of the climate crisis as well as an indictment of the unmitigated growth championed under capitalism that threatens nature and our very way of life. Organized by Timothy McDowell and Barbara Zabel, respectively Professor and Professor Emeritus at Connecticut College, Fire and ice presents the work of a variety of different artists in multiple mediums, including painting, drawing, sculpture, recordings and audiovisual presentations.
Upon entering the gallery, one of the first pieces the viewer is exposed to is Mina de Ferro de Carajás (2019), an oil and charcoal on linen by Bob Nugent, an abstract piece stylistically reminiscent of cubism. It is intended to portray the destruction of the Amazon River basin due to irresponsible mining practices and its consequences for indigenous tribes. Lydia Nugent also portrays the destruction of the Amazon region with From honey to ashes (2019), a collection of watercolors on yupo illustrating the forest fire with haunting simplicity and serenity.
One of the highlights of the exhibition includes an oil on wood panel by Timothy McDowell, titled Daily concerns (2019). Serving as a representation of how recklessly we exploit natural resources, it distorts the boundaries between sea, land and sky, as oil flows from the end of a pipe, the moon rests on the ocean and a group appearing to be drilling for oil approaches from afar. A seemingly random sketch of a bug is affixed to the borers. With lots of dense imagery and symbolism, McDowell presents a rich and deeply disturbing vignette of humanity’s desire to extract all they can from nature to support our way of life.
Likewise, Pamela Marks thoughtfully portrays the interconnected nature and precariousness of our world with Living Earth Series (2018-2021), a collection of acrylics on paper that innovatively contrasts organic gesture and imposed geometry – and, therefore, nature with artificial systems. that of Christophe Volpe Everything human …(2017) develops this theme with images reminiscent of dark smoke curtains, evoking both the apocalypse and industrialization. His use of tar in addition to oil paints further suggests a psychic connection between the promise of the Industrial Revolution and the impending destruction of climate change.
Another highlight of the exhibition includes Chris Barnard’s Deep water horizon (2015), an oil on canvas. An abstract portrayal of BP’s eponymous 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Barnard’s work is a haunting portrayal of environmental degradation in the service of corporate interests that also prompts viewers to consider racial injustice. that corporate neglect of the environment perpetuates. The question of how systemic racism permeates climate inaction is explored in Under time (study of patience: sagittal, echo, coronal) (2021), a triptych of archival pigment prints by Amanda Russhell Wallace, professor at Connecticut College. Wallace’s article examines the relationship “between environmental disruptors and biological weathering,” and how the latter permeates interactions with the mundane, suggesting that anti-darkness is a pervasive environmental factor. The play is a fascinating mediation on time as the culmination of our environments, the cyclical nature of life and death, and their implications for the intersection of the climate crisis with racial violence.
But the exhibition also leaves open the suggestion of hope for a collective redemption with Gregory Bailey. Rainwater collection tank (2018), a large sculpture made of various recycled materials featured prominently in the center of the gallery. The sculpture is both aesthetic and practical, as it can be used to collect water which can be used to grow trees. According to Bailey, the carbon sequestered by the trees will eventually exceed the carbon used to make the sculpture. The piece suggests that art has a moral imperative not only to comment on society, but also to be part of the solution, contrasting with the pessimism of the rest of the exhibition.
Fire and ice, while showcasing incredible works, is more than the mere sum of its parts. The combination of the industrial with the idyllic, the brilliant with the nightmarish, and the systematic with the chaotic creates an experience that compels the viewer to struggle against their place in nature and reflect on questions ranging from the political to the metaphysical. The thematic and stylistic variety of the exhibition, although seemingly incongruous at first glance, follows a certain internal logic and tackles the same theme from several lenses. By doing so, Fire and ice carefully portrays a broad and nuanced take on the climate crisis.
Fire and ice is on display until October 15e.
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