My husband and I are taking an eight week course put out by the Foreign Policy Institute. It is designed to increase our awareness of what is really happening in the world and how it affects our country (and vice versa). Our teacher is an amazing guy who knows a lot of things about a lot of different stuff, especially the middle east. He is the kind of guy who reads an interesting fact and then follows it on the internet back to the source. Needless to say, I have a greater appreciation for what our past and future presidents are up against when it comes to world politics.
I mention this because last week’s class was on geo-politics. It was not a happy, Disney-esque type of class. Our teacher’s background happens to be in dinosaur studies and so he is well versed in the history of extinctions. And based on what we learned, we are headed to yet another drastic extinction…that of humans and many other animals.
I have been working hard on not feeling panicked, but it is difficult. I look back on my environmental awareness and wonder what happened to the happy days of the 70’s and 80’s where we celebrated Earth Day once a year and cleaned up a few streams in order to assuage our guilt at what we were doing to the earth. I believed at the time that the ultimate moment of reckoning would not happen until I was long gone, ashes under the earth’s surface. I was thinking of sending notes to the next generation telling them how sorry I was that I had left them this planet that needed so much fixing. And, if I am honest, I felt a bit glad I wasn’t going to be around to see the devastation that the last 100+ years have caused on this earth of ours.
When I was growing up, our water came from a spring that started up the hill from our house. The water was pure and cold…the best water ever as far as I was concerned. Sure, there were cows in the field above us but it never occurred to me what they could do to a deep water source like ours. The water was plentiful and cold and I never bothered to wonder what would happen when it ran out.
Now once again, I live in (rapidly diminishing) farm country. I have a well that has barely survived through a bad drought right after we moved in. Since then, there have been two new housing developments, one medium sized one and one large one, that have gone up down the road. We have not had a drought for a while but I am already worrying about whether the water table can handle all the extra car washing, lawn watering and pool filling that will undoubtedly happen. I drink the water that comes from the well, but only after it has gone through the filter in the refrigerator. We have to check the well every few years to make sure that there are no nasty bugs that have developed down there.
And yet…I am supremely lucky. I turn on a tap and presto…there is my water for cooking, cleaning and watering the dogs. In seconds I get scorching hot water for my shower and I can flush the toilet. (Unless the power goes out…that’s another story). I know that my water will not make me sick, it will not cause skin rashes, digestive problems or worse.
It is easy to think that climate change is happening but it is not affecting me so it can’t be that bad. Yes, there are polar bears dying, yes the seas are warming, yes there are chemicals and pollutants and nuclear tests and manufacturing detritus and genetically modified this and that and people who can’t get enough protein because life in the oceans is dying at an alarming rate and plastic is in everybody’s system and…oh, wait a minute. All of a sudden it seems that we have crossed the line where the effects of climate change are actually happening RIGHT NOW.
Did you know that there are people in Washington who, instead of doing something about this, are actually debating about WHAT TO CALL IT? The title does not matter. Who is responsible does not matter. It needs to be fixed and I can’t do it by planting tress by my little stream to help with erosion.
So what does this have to do with me and art and my message?
Some days I have no idea.
But other days I figure that art is the only way I have of expressing what it is like for me to come to terms with climate change. I want to show the feelings of panic, anger, sadness and grief over the changes that have happened since I was a child. I look at what my impact is as an artist. I even researched how paper towels are made for a project that I’m working on right now. (Did you know that companies use chemicals like urea-formaldehyde to make paper towels strong even when they are wet?) It can, quite frankly, make me even more crazy and depressed. But it can also show how wide-spread and ingrained the issues are.
So be on the lookout for some installations and sculptures that address this issue in the future. I have started to show a few but I think there will be more projects down the road that will address my fascination/revulsion with decomposition, decay and destruction, both man-made and natural. (Can you tell I am not a Norman Rockwell kinda person?)
In the meantime, I will leave you with some beauty…in an odd form. Here is some rust that I found on my work table one day as I sat down to grind some metal. I find rust so very fascinating. I hope you do too.