From Katsushika Hokusai’s “The Great Wave” (1831) to Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Waterfall, No 1, Iao Valley, Maui” (1939), the environment has been a popular topic for artists for centuries. With our modern era dealing with more intense climate change issues every year, many artists have found ways to incorporate environmental activism into their artwork.
Two artists who have done so in a major way are Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd, whose most recent public art project, titled the “Climate Clock,” went live on Sept. 19. It is located on the side of a 10-story building at Union Square in New York City. The clock shows a visible display of the years, days, hours, minutes and seconds left until the effects of climate change are irreversible — based on calculations from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change.
While some may see their work in a negative light, perhaps as a fear tactic to convince people to take action to help the environment, I see it as a beneficial reality check for the public.
It is far easier to continue not being environmentally conscious of our actions. For example, many of us continue to use countless plastic products or turn a blind eye to our contributions to air pollution. The truth is, with so few laws in place to actively improve the environment, it is up to us to make the necessary changes to protect the planet before the deadline on the “Climate Clock” arrives in a little over seven years.
Golan and Boyd also made a corresponding project website for viewers to read the full explanation of their work’s purpose and vision, while showing the importance of reversing the effects of climate change. The website also allows people to push for a climate clock to be installed in their own city, and it teaches people how to make a small, portable one like the one the artists gave to teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg before her appearance at the United Nations Climate Action Summit.
This website should also help further promote action against climate change, as people in cities around the United States and the world can see the same climate clock. Golan and Boyd said that the clock will not only serve as a daily reminder of how much time is left to take action, but they also said, “This initiative will encourage everybody to join us in fighting for the future of our planet.” Personally, I agree with their statement because I believe that, with many world issues, if they are not persistently visible, they can fall into the dangerous territory of “out of sight, out of mind.”
Many other artists around the world have been advocating for environmental activism through their work. For example, an artist named Olafur Eliasson released an ecologically-concerned artwork titled "Earth Perspectives" at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit. One article from Artsy.net said that Eliasson’s work illustrated “…art’s ability to provoke emotional, visceral responses to climate change — something that data points and statistics often struggle to do.” This interpretation communicates how online statistics about climate change are not enough, and how art can encourage people to take action if not on their own, through ways the artist has provided. This article also covers nine other artists who are making their artwork environmentally conscious, whether that be through the message they are conveying or physical installments that help the environment in real time.
North Carolina artists have taken part in the movement as well. For example, professional artist Mel Chin’s digital app “Unmoored” was exhibited in Times Square in July of 2018, showing what it would look like if sea levels rose due to ice caps melting. Along with this, a sculpture titled Wake, which was created by UNC-Asheville students and Chin, highlighted how past American economies paved the way for our current environmental issues. The sculpture was brought to Times Square as the entry point into the “Unmoored” exhibit. Both works were brought back to Asheville for North Carolinians to enjoy.
These artists, along with Golan and Boyd’s “Climate Clock,” are all prime examples of the power of activism in art and the productive changes that can result from their work, since people affected by their art will likely want to take action.
As NC State students, it is vital that we enter our future careers and live in a safe environment. We have already witnessed consequences, such as poor air quality, yearly forest fires and animal extinctions, among countless others. It is in our best interest to receive the messages of these artists and take action moving forward.
For those looking for ways to help, the Natural Resources Defense Council has a great 12-step plan for the public to stop global warming. To see more environmental artwork dedicated to helping the climate crisis, the Climate Museum also has an abundance of environmentalistic exhibitions. NC State has an Environmental Student Association and another club called the Zero Waste Wolves, both of which promote environmental awareness and protection. Lastly, Energy Week is planned to run from Oct. 19-23 this year, and it is a week where students can participate in learning activities and find career opportunities surrounding clean energy.