NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 24 – The climate crisis is a common problem that requires a joint solution. This is the message that has been repeatedly stressed through the Climate Summit of the 74th General Assembly. The catastrophic effects of the climate crisis are already being felt by the most vulnerable, and will eventually be felt by all. Everybody must therefore be involved in climate solutions. Society needs to adjust its mindset and habits, governments need to declare a government emergency, the private sector must mitigate its drive for profits and undergo a green transformation, and art can raise awareness. Here are some examples of art for the planet.
The first climate installation of Olafur Eliasson, the “Weather Project” displayed in Tate Modern, dates to 2003: an artificial sun which transformed the Turbine Hall and changed the way art was to be done and perceived. It broke the boundaries of sculpture, painting, photography, film and installation. But most importantly it sensibilized the public and rendered more concrete the fragility of our planet. Eliasson also created “Ice Watch”, an installation consisting of glacier pieces from Greenland placed in the city centers of Copenhagen in 2014, Paris in 2015 for COP21, and outside of the Tate Modern in 2018. Ice Watch aimed at raising awareness for the accelerating threat of melting glaciers.
Over the weekend, Eliasson declared his commitment to work with the United Nations as UNDP Goodwill Ambassador for climate and the sustainable development goals: “The best roadmap is to follow the 17 sustainable development goals. Culture has the potential of making us understand the challenges we face,” he remarked. “We need to take the climate crisis seriously, we must trust science and unite our knowledge, creativity and energy”.
Another Danish artist seeking to raise climate awareness through his work is Jeppe Hein. In the atrium of the United Nations he installed his most recent work -still in progress- “Breathe With Me”, which draws attention to the importance of the air we breath. In his installation, each individual breath becomes a blue line on a white canvas: a collective breath for the climate that we all share. An extralarge version of “Breathe With Me” will tomorrow be build in Central Park, making it one of the largest public art installations New York has seen thus far.
Micheal Pinsky’s art project, “Pollution Pods”, is currently being displayed in the gardens of the United Nations, as the Climate Summit and 74th General Assembly unfold. This installation consists of five domes connected by a transparent tunnel. Each dome reproduces the smell of the air in either the Arctic Norway, London, New Delhi, Beijing or Sao Paolo. The smells are non-toxic simulations meant to inform, in the words of Pinsky, “not only how strong air pollution can be, but also how drastically its characteristics can change from place to place”. Nine out of ten people breath unhealthy air, and air pollution is the cause of seven million deaths yearly. “Clean air is a human right according to the World Health Organization,” reminds us the artist.
The journey in the “Pollution Pods” begins with the clean air of Norway, onto the diesel infested air of London, the smell of plastic and burnt grass that infests New Delhi and the mix of high pollution, industrial fumes, transport emissions and carbon based heating which suffocates Beijing. It ends in Sao Paolo, where the somewhat sweet smell of the atmosphere is the cruel product of the transport sector’s emissions.
Italian architect Stefano Boeri, president of the Triennale of Milan, presented at the Climate Summit his new project: the “Great Green Wall of Cities”, which will see the creation of urban green areas -aimed at capturing carbon emissions- in multiple African and Asian cities. By 2030, the bold action will have helped cities create up to 500,000 hectares of new urban forests and restore or maintain up to 300,000 hectares of existing natural forests in and around urban areas of the Sahel and Central Asia.”We have entered a new phase of human history in which we will finally see a new alliance between cities and forests,” explained the architect: “Trees and woods will no longer be a decorative presence or kept in protected areas, but will become integral part of the the life of millions of citizens around the world, if our hope is that of stopping climate change.” (SB)