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Currently, the DePaul Art Museum is showing a poignant and absorbing interactive exhibition entitled “Climate of Uncertainty,” featuring 12 artists engaged in long-term projects that address the human role in environmental degradation. Artists include: Marissa Benedict, Edward Burtynsky, Terry Evans, Sonja Hinrichsen, Allison Grant, Chris Jordan, Maskull Lasserre, Marilyn Propp, Sabrina Raaf, Christina Seely, Daniel Shea, and Toshio Shibata.
Marissa Benedict (b. 1985) who teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has been working on projects that seek to develop alternative energy sources. Benedict researches and investigates the art of science, and highlights the beauty of experimentation. She builds her works as a growing web of evocative links that connect natural systems, scientific processes, art historical trajectory, and personal experience. At the exhibition, Benedict is showing “Algal Biodiesel Processing Station III,” an installation of a mini-laboratory. Her materials include algae, microscope, wood, oil, felt, chords, straps, clamp lights, methanol, toaster, sink, centrifuge, and a 15-minute video. In her artist statement Benedict writes: “My sculptural practice is an ongoing investigation into the forms, states and situations which play a part in the complex—and ever evolving—relationship between humans and the material world. I am intrigued by processes which reinvest material with agency; processes which allow equal space for planned human action and uncontrollable biological, chemical and physical reaction. “ (http://marissaleebenedict.com/statement)
The photography works in the exhibition address urgent global concerns through various aesthetic modes. Daniel Shea (b. 1985) retrieved and rescanned a photograph from 2007 entitled “Coal-Fired Plant.” Six years ago, Shea documented the highly destructive process of coal extraction known as mountaintop removal, where mountains are blown apart to efficiently access coal seams. Shea traveled to West Virginia and Ohio and his photographs followed the industry’s production from start to finish. While in West Virginia, Shea became interested in the lives of the people involved with coal industry’s destruction of the landscape.  He stated: “I approach Removing Mountains with the aim of making a social documentary narrative. In addition, I’m interested in evaluating the historical importance of landscape depiction and the image’s role in polarizing otherwise complex political realities.”http://archive.mocp.org/collections/mpp/shea_daniel.php)
Chris Jordan (b. 1963) documents a disturbing portrait of waste. In 2009 Jordan traveled to the Pacific Midway Atoll and photographed thousands of baby albatrosses that died as a result of plastic ingestion and dehydration. The islands of Midway Atoll receive debris consisting of ninety percent plastic. The plastic represents a hazard to the bird population of the island, and nearly all of the two million Laysan Albatrosses have plastic in their digestive system. About one-third of all albatross chicks die from plastic consumption. Jordan’s horrific images at the exhibition are entitled “Midway: Message from the Gyre”. None of the images were manipulated and they depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds more than two thousand miles from the nearest continent. Jordan writes about the piece: “For me, kneeling over their carcasses is like looking into a macabre mirror. These birds reflect back an appallingly emblematic result of the collective trance of our consumerism and runaway industrial growth. Like the albatross, we first-world humans find ourselves lacking the ability to discern anymore what is nourishing from what is toxic to our lives and our spirit.Choked to death on our waste, the mythical albatross calls upon us to recognize that our greatest challenge lies not out there, but in here.” (http://chrisjordan.com/gallery/midway/#about)

Canadian artist Edward Burtynsky (b. 1955) travels to remote locations and creates rich photographic works of industrial waste piles, heaps of metal debris, and consumption. At DePaul, his work entitled “Manufacturing #11, Youngor Textiles, Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, China,” portrays the lunchroom in a factory. Burtynsky states: “These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire—a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.” (http://www.edwardburtynsky.com/)
In the exhibition catalog curator Laura Fatemi writes: “…artists can offer a fresh way of looking at environment degradation, and a compelling visualization of its consequences. By presenting Climate of Uncertainty, the DePaul Art Museum provides a forum for artists’ concerns. We share many of the same goals: a desire to bring understanding to important problems of the environment, and to further a dialogue with the hope that awareness will bring transformation…” The exhibition runs through March 24.

Published: February 23, 2013
Issue: Winter 2013 Issue