P ablo Picasso’s Guernica, dramatizing the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. David Černý’s vandalism-as-art pink Soviet tank in the center of Prague. Barbara Kruger’s textual collages and photographs, like Untitled (I shop therefore I am), that interrogate sexism and capitalism.
Walking the line between political tool and artistic object is itself an art. If you tip too far toward the former, you risk having little more than pretty propaganda on your hands.
The works in Artspace’s current exhibit, Futurecast, adeptly negotiate this task, considering climate change as both an environmental and normative issue, and not so much as a political one. That’s refreshing, because we’ve been having the political conversation for decades. Most of it has centered around a does-it-exist-or-doesn’t-it debate, with further dispute about whether human activities are to blame. By the late 1980s, a scientific consensus had already emerged to answer both of those questions in the affirmative, but a public consensus accepting those conclusions has only recently begun to emerge.
This is where Futurecast—which you’ll have to resolve to visit in the new year, after Artspace reopens from its holiday break on January 8—picks up. The exhibition, notes Ihrie Means in her curatorial statement, is designed “to illustrate the unprecedented weather patterns that have become our new reality.” As the earth’s climate shifts, she adds, “there exists a new anxiety about the future of our homes, businesses and infrastructure.” The pieces in Futurecast grapple with this anxiety, exploring what climate change feels like and how it looks, and how we are dealing with it both externally and internally.
Sabrina Marques’s oil paintings take on jungle and forest imagery but with a psychedelic, abstract twist. An orange sky and green rabbits in Entre Amigos (Friends Among Us) populate what seems to be an alternate, post-civilization world, in which bizarre transformations and mutations have occurred. And the photographs of Katya Kirilloff’s Bathers series have a timeless feel to them that is both desolate and mysterious. The subjects of Bathers II, kneeling in swimsuits by a small swimming hole in the midst of a grey expanse of dirt and staring directly at the viewer, seem to accuse us of looking at them as mere spectacle.
The exhibit is at its most breathtaking with Hilary Wilder’s Interior with Pictures, Windows, and Lamps (Storm in the Mountains) (pictured above), an enormous painting that extends its arms beyond the canvas and onto the surrounding walls. Its fractured, collage-like images conjure earthly scenes of glaciers, ocean waves and storms. Standing in front of the painting, it’s hard not to feel its power—and, by extension, that of the earth it evokes. This feeling stays with you if you step left to view Paul Duda’s photographs of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on the New Jersey coast, one of the earth’s recent climate-caused paroxysms.
Ms. Means thinks they also help reveal the aftermath of the aftermath, noting in the exhibit’s pamphlet, “The stillness and sheer emptiness of these images reflects the hesitation with which many of these communities are being rebuilt.” These aren’t just views of major destruction; they’re views of our own psyches, and of our own characters. Can we take difficult corrective actions at urgent moments? Can we even get up the nerve to try?
Not everything in Futurecast feels so uncertain. Noelle King’s Mythological Moss Cores, sculptures created from moss embedded in bamboo stalks, breathe life into the exhibition. The living greenery bursting forth from the piece’s series of sparsely-positioned bamboo poles suggests the possibility of sustenance and growth even as changes to the environment seem increasingly dire.
Offering a good mix of vantages is what Futurecast does best. The question of whether climate change is real and calamitous has been answered, so the artists are free to focus on the experiences and attitudes of those who must deal with the fallout. Ultimately, through a multiplicity of voices, Futurecast seems to ask one question above all others: are we irretrievably destroying the planet, or can we create something workable out of the changes that have already arrived?
Artspace – 50 Orange St, New Haven (map)
Regular gallery hours are Wed-Thurs 12-6pm and Fri-Sat 12-8pm.
Note: The gallery is closed for the holidays until January 8, with the exhibition continuing until January 25.
(203) 772-2709 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Written and photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg.