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>> "Feeling the Heat" - Art and Climate Change
>> Annette Kelm

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Apocalypse No!
Feeling the Heat at the 60 Wall Street Gallery

If one were to search for images of melting icebergs and oil-drenched beaches in “Feeling the Heat,” one would search in vain. While the exhibition at Deutsche Bank’s 60 Wall Street Gallery in New York investigates one of the world’s most urgent problems, climate change, curator Liz Christensen distances herself from apocalyptic image of horror. Instead, she banks on art that’s made well—and not just meant well.

Brian Ballengée, DFA 23, Kharon, 2001/2007
Courtesy of the Artist and Archibald Arts, NYC

Prepared scientific specimens, or merely bizarre sculptures? In the work of Brandon Ballengée, one can never be sure. His photo works depict skeletons of frogs—with one astonishing flaw: the frogs have six hind legs. No, Ballengée’s photos do not feature mutations created on the computer, but real specimens of the Pacific Tree Frog captured in California. Due to their sensitive skin, these animals react particularly strongly to environmental pollution and climate change, sometimes even with physical deformities. The frog as a Litmus test testifying to the condition of its—and our—living environment?

Brian Ballengée, DFA 83, Karkinos, 2001/2007
Courtesy of the Artist and Archibald Arts, NYC

For more than a decade, Ballengée has not merely been studying the Pacific Tree Frog, but the overall decrease in the amphibian population worldwide. The New York-based artist operates in the interstice between art and science—as do many of the 16 artists in Feeling the Heat, the current show at the 60 Wall Street Gallery of Deutsche Bank New York. The exhibition addresses one of the most urgent problems of our time—global climate change and its effects. Curator Liz Christensen is not, however, concerned with painting as dark an image as possible of the situation; she avoids approaches that are all too didactic. Instead, the works are based, as she formulates it, on "an overarching belief in the power of the creative process to help open our eyes to what is happening." And this is precisely what Chris Jordan’s works do.

Chris Jordan, Plastic Bottles, 2007
Courtesy of the Artist

His series Running by Numbers: An American Self-Portrait (2006-08) investigates the remains of the consumerist society. On each of his large-scale photographs, he converts statistics into unbelievable images depicting, for instance, the 160,000 soft drink cans emptied every thirty seconds in the US, or, as in one of the works shown in Feeling the Heat, the vast spread of the two million plastic bottles manufactured there every five minutes. From a distance, Plastic Bottles (2007) resembles a pointillist painting; the motif can only be discerned up close. Jordan’s works are assembled together on the computer from thousands of photographs; they are not merely concerned with casting a critical eye on large-scale waste and environmental pollution, but also explore questions of perception, the view from near and afar, singular and plural.

Chris Jordan, Plastic Bottles, 2007
Courtesy of the Artist

It is one of the exhibition’s great strengths that the art is consistently good. All too often, the artistic investigation of themes such as global warming or environmental damage leads to an invocation of a pristine, unspoiled nature or to images of landscapes devastated by industrial exploitation. Exhibitions such as Feeling the Heat and Greenwashing at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin, however—with artists such as Tue Greefort, Cornelia Parker, and Simon Starling focusing on the theme’s social aspects—show the variety of alternative artistic strategies employed in addressing this complex theme at a far remove from idyllic or apocalyptic images.

Subhankar Banerjee, Brant and Snow Geese with Chicks,
aus der Serie "Oil and the Geese", 2006
Courtesy of the artist and
Sundaram Tagore Gallery, New York - Beverly Hills - Hong Kong

Another artist exploring climate change is Olafur Eliasson. His 42-part Glacier Series (1999), shown in the exhibition True North at the Deutsche Guggenheim, depicts melting glaciers in the form of a serial grid. Eliasson’s BMW art car Your mobile expectations (2008), a frozen racing car that runs on hydrogen, formulates questions on the connection between global warming, carbon dioxide emissions, and individual mobility. On the other hand, in his Internet platform Free Soil, the Danish artist Nis Rømer connects artists, researchers, and environmental activists. A close collaboration among artists and scientists also characterizes the exhibition Weather Report, which art critic Lucy Lippard organized in 2007 at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and which inspired Liz Christensen to put on Feeling the Heat. With institutions such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the university city of Boulder is one of the centers of climate research worldwide. The exhibition’s goal was to sensitize public awareness of the subject and to develop visions of a sustainable handling of natural resources.

Kim Abeles, Presidential Commemorative Smog Plates, 1992
Courtesy of the artist

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