Art as positive action.

April 15, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

The work of artists like Eirik Johnston, who's images convey a tenuous, uncomfortable, and occasionally destructive relationship between humans and natural systems, attempt to elevate a nostalgic perception of that relationship to a more profound narrative about land use and the human-environmental connection. Similarly, Daniel Beltrá's galleries are packed with aerial images of large-scale ecosystem modification with human causes, which transcend the documentary mode to become beautiful abstractions, almost obscuring their rather bleak message. Sequences like these, presented without hope for the future, fall short of the inspiring message they aspire to. They offer mood and evidence, but don't venture a solution or encouragement for positive change. Contrast those works with those of artists like JR, Alexandre Orion, or Paul Curtis (“Moose”), who use art as a means of physical environmental improvement, utilizing an active process to create art and cause change simultaneously, rather than attempting to force one to generate the other. This is a difficult comparison to recognize, especially as a photographer working in the same vein as the former artists, because I gravitate to those melancholy images even while hating the implications of their contents. At the same time, I have to recognize that promoting and enabling climate change reform using the latest knowledge and technology is critical to the success of future society, and as a photographer especially, that has to happen at the expense of nostalgia. It is extremely difficult to make photographic work that truly affects change, one of the terrible failings of an immensely variable method of art-making. Most of the projects that catch my attention would be best utilized as advertising for movements or organizations, taken as documents and presented as catalysts for further action. I have a constant nagging feeling that I should be working harder as an artist to not simply observe and report, but to use my humble talents to actually present solutions. What solutions, or even what problems? I have no idea, except that I hope at this point our global society has moved past needing to be informed about the critical nature of our impact on the global ecosystem. Even typing that phrase veers too dangerously near the “man's inhumanity” cliché that plagues every freshman's first photo critique. The appropriate steps now may even lay beyond the scope of photography, like the works of the three artist above, whose projects offer tangible benefits not as an afterthought, but as core elements of the artwork. Looking at the images of them working and the effects of their work, watching videos of those passionate artists speak about the projects, all from the comfort of my climate-controlled apartment, is inspiring motivation to think of better ways to utilize the tools available to me.  


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