Artists and Climate Change

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Beth Dary: Near the Water’s Edge

By Etty Yaniv

Beth Dary’s sculptures, installations, and drawings have in common deep layers of meaning, imaginative combinations of materials, and subtle delicacy in form and color. Her insatiable curiosity for exploring diverse materials and processes results in a wide array of formal expressions, ranging from ceramics to photography, and fabric to glass. In this interview, she shares some insights into her work, her process of exploration, and talks about her upcoming projects.

You grew up by the sea and the notion of water and patterns in nature seem to play a central role in all of your work. Can you tell me more about it?

Nature has always been an inspiration and is an integral aspect of my work. I was born and raised on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and remember being acutely aware of the power and beauty of the ocean and the coastal environment, even as a child.

I spent many hours walking the shoreline, beach-combing with my mom. On her daily morning walk, she would clean the beach, picking up the trash that washed ashore while I picked up as many interesting objects as I could carry home – beach glass, seedpods, fishing lures, shells, driftwood. Another visceral memory is of the Nor’easters and hurricanes we weathered and the almost ritual routine we had preparing for and riding out these storms. We would board up the house, light the kerosene lamps, and get out our books. When the storms passed, we would walk the neighborhood to survey the damage. This has left a lasting impression on me and has also played a large role in how I view the natural world.

Moving forward to my adult life, I have always lived near the water’s edge – whether on Cape Cod, New York City, on the Mississippi River in Memphis, and New Orleans. As a result, I have continued to bear witness to the awesome forces of nature and climate, including having experienced Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy first hand.

Please tell me about your project Elements of Ambivalence from 2006.

I was living in New Orleans in 2005, where my family and I had settled after two years of traveling. Less than two months after moving into the house we had purchased, we were on the move again, hitting the road with our then four year-old less than 24 hours before Katrina made landfall. Once it became clear that we would not be able to return home for some time, we resettled in New York City. That fall I was a recipient of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Gulf Coast Residency, which was created in response to the many artists who were displaced by the storm. Being able to go back to work with a community of 12 other artists who had also landed in New York after leaving the Gulf Coast was the first major step in recovering personally and professionally.

Elements of Ambivalence, 10’ x 17’ x 4″, fabric, pins, encaustic, 2006.

The “studios,” located in an empty floor of a Lower Manhattan office building, were separated by fabric walls as they were put together quickly to create an instant work space for the artists. It was during this residency that I began the Elements of Ambivalenceseries. I decided to use one of the 10’ x 17’ fabric walls as a canvas to create a large-scale, double-sided drawing; since I didn’t have any materials to work with at the time, this seemed like a good place to start. The drawing was inspired by the circle maps I was seeing in the newspapers to describe the diaspora of the New Orleans population and communities displaced by the hurricane, as well as the mold patterns that formed in people’s water-damaged homes, including ours.

I chose to use florist pins to create the drawing. On one side of the canvas were thousands of reflective black and white round-headed ball pins; the opposite side revealed only the sharp sheath part of the pin. This duality relates to the simultaneous beauty and danger of the natural world. Also included in this body of work were kinetic sculptures made using steel hoops covered with discarded sections of the wall fabric embedded with pins to make individual pieces that hung in the space at eye level.

You do public art as well. Can you tell me about your project Emerge?

In 2006-2007 I returned to New Orleans with my family after spending a year in New York. It was during this time that I created my first public art project in conjunction with Aorta, a guerilla-style artist group dedicated to placing artwork into areas that were heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Emerge was located in New Orleans City Park. The installation consisted of placing hundreds of cast paper pulp “pods” into the landscape of a low-lying wetland on the grounds in the park. For a casual passerby, the distinction between “artistic” and “natural” phenomenon would blur. The sculptural elements of the piece, which were inspired by objects found in nature like a gourd or seed pod, were created using all organic materials and placed in a way that could be imagined as an integral part of the life cycle of the plants in that area. In this way I used “art” to seed something of potential growth for a landscape that was flooded and badly damaged during the storm. Perhaps these sculptures were even collected as a curiosity by a visitor to the park – maybe a child around the same age I was when trailing behind my mother on the beach.

Emerge, sizes variedcast paper pulp, 2007

The sculptures, many of them unfinished fragments, were part of an earlier body of work that was interrupted by the hurricane, sitting untouched on my studio work table for over a year. The use of elements of a partially completed work connoted a disruption of a work in progress, much the way so many lives were caught in a moment at the time of the storm and dropped elsewhere out of their intended context.

Let’s talk about your glass work. What is the genesis?

In 2007 we returned to New York, where we have lived ever since. Coming out of my experience with Emerge, a friend told me about “Art on the Beach,” a 1970’s era artist movement in Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan on land that was, at that time, a vacant sandy landfill. By 2007, the area had transformed into a dense urban neighborhood where we happened to be living.

Much of my free time was spent along the Battery Park waterfront in the playgrounds with our young son. A favorite spot of mine is the Lily Pool, a duck pond just south of the World Financial Center. Thinking about “Art on the Beach,” and seeing bubbles floating over the pond from the nearby playground where my son was playing, I was inspired to propose Equilibrium as a public art installation made up of bubble sculptures that would float in the Lily Pool.

Equilibrium, sizes variedblown glass, 2008Photo courtesy of Steve Gross and Susan Daly (L) and Scott Ferguson (R).

The sculptures were immersed in the water, floating amidst the plant and animal life inhabiting the pond during the summer and fall of 2008. My hope for Equilibrium was to add a bit of curiosity and playfulness to the viewer’s day as the sculptures reflected the natural surroundings including the passersby themselves, as well as alluding to the metaphorical bubble that inspired the installation. The “bubble” has taken on many simultaneous meanings for me as I have worked with the form over the years – including air bubbles of CO2 trapped in Arctic ice that track climate change, and biomorphic forms that relate to metastasizing cells.

As it happened, the installation took place in the fall of 2008 during the height of the subprime mortgage collapse and the fall of Lehman Brothers. At that moment, by its location near the heart of the Financial District, the installation took on the added context and meaning of the financial “bubble,” which was much on people’s minds that fall.

Beth Dary at the Lily Pond in Battery Park City in New York City. Photo courtesy of Steve Gross and Susan Daly.

You are working with diverse materials and processes: paper, glass, drawing, sculpture, video, and ceramics. Tell me a bit about your relationship to materials and media.

My 2010 installation Emersion began with a fascination with barnacles that grow in abundance on Cape Cod. I felt this kind of sea life worked as a metaphor for the resilient and adaptable qualities of humans in a time of global warming and rising tides.

I had begun making barnacle sculptures with oil clay and sticking them directly onto the walls, ceiling, and floor of my studio and I agreed to turn them into a full-scale gallery installation. I spent time at a residency developing ideas for how to realize the installation. Some key reading material that I brought with me included Darwin and the Barnacle, which deepened my understanding of how these crustaceans have adapted to changing environments, and On The Water/Palisade Bay, a book that grew out of “Rising Currents” (a show featuring the work of a friend, Marc Tsurumaki, and his firm LTL Architects at the Museum of Modern Art), which proposed architectural projects along the coastal edge of New York City, exploring strategies to adapt to sea level rise. Using the walls of the studio, I developed the idea of creating wall sculptures hanging in an array that would mirror the topography of marine environments where barnacles thrive.

Emersion, 7’ x 31’ x 4″, porcelain, 2010-presentPhoto courtesy of Heriard-Cimino Gallery.

After returning home, I had two months to fabricate work with a medium that I had never used. Enlisting the help of an experienced ceramic artist, and a group of my friends, I had small ‘barnacle parties’ in my studio where we created thousands of hand-built barnacle clusters designed to hang in formation on the wall of the project room of the Heriard-Cimino Gallery. Emersion eventually became an immersive installation that filled the gallery, merging and overlapping the contours of New York Harbor and the Mississippi River, exploring the idea that we are connected through global waterways.

(Top image: Emersion (detail), sculptures range in size from 1″ diameter to 10″ x 12″ x 5″. All photos courtesy of the artist unless otherwise indicated.)

This interview is part of a content collaboration between Art Spiel and Artists & Climate Change. It was originally published on Art Spiel on January 8, 2019 as part of an ongoing interview series with contemporary artists.


Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing, and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She has exhibited her immersive installations in museums and galleries, nationally and internationally. Yaniv founded the platform Art Spiel to highlight the work of contemporary artists through art reviews, studio visits, and interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. Yaniv holds a BA in Psychology and English Literature from Tel Aviv University, a BFA from Parsons School of Design, and an MFA from SUNY Purchase.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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Traditional Caretaking Practices and Climate Solutions

By GiGi Buddie

Indigenous communities all over the world have been caretakers of this land for thousands of years. Many communities created caretaking traditions that worked in tandem with the Earth, never taking more than what was needed, and always giving back. These communities were able to function in both self-sustaining and Earth-sustaining ways, prospering in ways that didn’t put human life above everything else. However, with the spread and destruction of colonization, many of these sustainable practices were forced from tradition. With disease, genocide, and assimilation fueled by ethnocentric attitudes, many of the traditions, cultures, languages, and caretaking practices have been lost… but this does not mean that they were forgotten. 

For this installment of the Indigenous Voices series, and in honor of World Indigenous People’s Day, which was on Monday August 9, I want to explore and share a traditional caretaking practice that can guide us toward global climate solutions. The history of Indigenous communities is proof that there is both truth and great purpose to the techniques they used to care for the Earth. And in the wake of our global climate crisis, these caretakers and their knowledge might just be the solution to our dying planet. In the last three years, we have seen the most intense and destructive wildfires decimate parts of Australia and the West Coast of the U.S., and every year that our planet warms, the possibility of these uncontrollable fires destroying entire ecosystems rises as well. 

Cultural burning has long been a practice for Indigenous communities around the world. In Australia, Aboriginal tribes practiced cultural burns (cool burns) for the purpose of saving flora and fauna in a wildfire-prone environment. These low-intensity, “cool” burns allow time for animals and insects to escape, are not hot enough to destroy young trees, and keep grass seeds intact for regrowth. On the West Coast of the U.S., tribes would use controlled burns to stimulate forest regrowth, destroy invasive species harmful to the health of the forest, and sustain overall environmental cycles. 

Indigenous tribes in both Australia and the U.S. also used controlled burns for cultural practices integral to their long standing traditions. For the Yurok, Karuk, and Hoopa Tribes of Northern California, traditional burn practices would produce strong hazel stalks that were gathered and woven into baby baskets, traditional dancers hats, and resource gathering tools. The fires help tan oak acorns to drop, and burn invasive plants that suck up rain water, letting more clean, cool water flow down into the Klamath river for the salmon. In a piece on controlled burns written for The Nature Conservancy, Bill Tripp, Director of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy for the Karuk Tribe, said: 

Without being able to freely engage in our cultural burning practices, we lose our culture. We can’t teach someone how to make a basket if we don’t have the materials that are pliable enough to make them. And we can’t access our food resources. We lose our salmon, we lose our acorns, we lose all those things, and we don’t have a culture. We just slowly disappear. 

The D’harawal Aboriginal people of Western Australia use cool burning to replenish the Earth and enhance the biodiversity that sustains their ways of living. For example, the ash from the burn fertilizes the soil and the potassium from the ash encourages flowering. And soft burning encourages rain: It warms the environment to a particular atmospheric level, and once the warm and the cool meet, rain falls, helping mitigate fires and encourage/sustain agriculture growth. Cool burns protect Aboriginal lands and clear access to areas for cultural uses like hunting, access to fish traps, and ceremony.

In addition to controlled burns being fundamental to the prosperity of the cultures, traditions, and practices of Indigneous tribes, it is clear that without these moderate/low-intensity burns to clear fuel, forests and landscapes quickly become vulnerable and primed for destructive wildfires. Unfortunately, because of the U.S. government’s interference with this practice (paired with the destructive effects of climate change), fire is now seldom connected with its life-giving and revitalizing qualities. Fire-suppression rules have forcefully stopped the ability of Indigenous communities to conduct traditional burns, and American Indians still face persecution and penalty for using fire for their traditions. However, it seems progress is slowly being made. In Australia, controlled burning is now widely used to mitigate the effects of destructive wildfires, and parts of the West Coast of the U.S. are starting to take advantage of a climate solution that rests in the hands of the very people and cultures they once sought to destroy. 

Controlled burns are just one piece of Indigenous land management and caretaking that should be implemented as solutions to the climate crisis. Indigenous communities understand the environment and understand the complexities of how to have a sustainable relationship with nature. I strongly believe that these are the voices that we need to listen to as we work together to save our home. And I strongly believe that the attitude most humans have towards the environment needs to significantly change, because each choice we make that negatively affects the environment will eventually negatively affect us. This Earth has given us a place to grow, learn, explore, and create. Let us save her so that future generations may get the chance to enjoy her as well. 

This article is part of the Indigenous Voices series.


GiGi Buddie is an American Indian artist and student studying theatre, with an emphasis in acting, at Pomona College. Whether it be through acting or working in tech, GiGi has dedicated much of her life to the theatre. In the summer of 2019, her passion for art and environmental justice took her to the Baram River in Malaysian Borneo where she, alongside Pomona professors, researched the environmental crisis and how it has been affecting the Indigenous groups that live along the river. As a result of her experience researching and traveling, she student-produced the Pomona College event for Climate Change Theatre Action during the fall 2019 semester.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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An Interview with Author Matt Bell

By Amy Brady

This month, I’m delighted to share with you an interview with novelist Matt Bell, whose latest novel, Appleseed, hit shelves earlier this month. The novel spans centuries, touching upon how climate change, colonialism, capitalism, and other forces have shaped – and re-shaped – the Earth and our societies. Matt’s also the author of the novels Scrapper and In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods. His short story collection is called A Tree or a Person or a Wall, and he’s also the author of a non-fiction book about the video game Baldur’s Gate II. He currently teaches creative writing at Arizona State University.

What drew you to the subject of climate change, and what inspires you to explore it in your work?

At this stage, it seems impossible to write a novel without writing about climate change, but I know that’s not what you’re asking! As a teacher, I often tell students that one way to subvert the clichéd writing advice of “writing what you know” is to “write what you’re afraid to know,” and there’s an aspect of that to Appleseed, I’m sure. I grew up in rural Michigan among people who loved the outdoors, and have spent so much of my life in nature at home and in state and national parks, hiking and backpacking and trail running. Wildlife has been a source of wonder and imagination for me as long as I can remember – one of my most treasured childhood possessions was an illustrated encyclopedia of animals that I read A-Z, over and over – and the prospect of a world without such life thriving in abundance is truly one of the worst outcomes I can imagine.

I think there was a time when climate change and all the problems associated with it were so overwhelming that I felt a kind of nihilistic paralysis whenever I thought about it. But one reason to write a novel is to think and feel your way through a problem, and I do feel like writing Appleseed made me feel productively engaged (in my own way) in necessary learning and thought instead of indulging in further avoidance or denial.

Your novel spans more than 1,000 years. Please discuss this artistic decision. What are you hoping to show readers? 

I began with the 1799 storyline, with the idea to retell Johnny Appleseed as a half-human, half-animal faun or satyr, but as I continued writing about the wilderness of that time (and about that era’s settler colonialism), I began drafting parts set in the future as well. One of my fascinations is the inexhaustibility of myths and fairy tales and folk tales, the way retelling them in no way diminishes them – there’s an immortality to such stories, and so maybe also to their characters, who can often be put in stories set in different times and different places than they originally did without any lessening of effect. I was also thinking about Timothy Morton’s hyperobjects, one of the most useful ideas I’ve come across in the last ten years: for anyone reading this who hasn’t heard the term before, it’s essentially any event or phenomenon that is massively dispersed through space and time, impossible to know in its entirety from any one place or moment. Obviously, climate change is one such hyperobject, as are unlimited growth capitalism, manifest destiny, settler colonialism, industrial agriculture, the fossil fuel economy, and other topics Appleseed touches on. Writing a longer time span lets me show those forces as they appeared in different times and places, linking their different manifestations to each other.

It was also, of course, fun to write a thousand-year-long book! It was an exciting problem to tackle, and hopefully it makes for an entertaining read. 

You’re originally from Michigan but live now in Arizona. Has living in the Southwest shaped how you think of nature or humanity’s relationship to the environment?

When we moved to Arizona, I had to relearn the seasons, the plants and animals, even how just to be outside during the day. Living near Phoenix changed my whole routine: in the summer here, I get up at 4am to go running in the dark, something I never would’ve done in Michigan, which means I’ve probably seen more sunrises in seven years in Arizona than in the rest of my life combined. But the real shaping happened when my wife Jessica and I started spending a lot of time in the Sonoran Desert, trying to learn as much as we could about the plants and animals here. At first, it was as much about trying to feel at home here as anything, but we quickly discovered how the more you learn to see about a particular landscape, the more you see: as you learn the names of the most obvious plants and animals, you start to see the next layer, and then the next and the next. Jess is a birder and a certified master naturalist, and getting to spend time in the desert alongside her particular form of attention and knowledge has helped me see more of it too. Later, when we returned to visit Michigan, we found that our newly trained attention came home with us, and made additional things visible even in the places we’d spent most of our lives. It’s been a transformative experience, and I’m so glad to continue to get to know both of these landscapes I think of as home.

Do you think about climate change beyond what you write in your novels?

I don’t know how anyone alive in this moment could honestly avoid thinking about climate change. Where I live in Arizona, there’s been a wildfire burning more than fifty miles away for weeks now, filling the air with brown smoke: I smell it when I go out running, even though it’s so dark out I can’t see the smoke yet. How could I not think about it? Living in Phoenix the past few years has been an obvious place to think and write about climate from, because causes and costs are so apparent here, but being back home in Michigan for part of the summer didn’t mean getting to avoid it. I’m writing this from my in-laws’ place in Michigan’s Thumb, where a tornado last week hit a lakeside town that has never had tornado damage before: afterward, I watched the fire chief on the news talking about how they would change the way they prepared and responded to extreme weather in the future. That’s climate change too, even if no one involved says the words.

Appleseed also touches on genetic engineering of food. As someone from Kansas who protested Monsanto in high school, I understand the issue is complex. What did you learn about this subject while writing the novel? Did writing Appleseed change how you think of genetic engineering?

You probably knew more as an engaged high schooler than I did starting out: I had a lot of things I thought I knew, but it was a jumble of news stories, things people I grew up with said back in Michigan, and scattered bits of reading. I’ve been a vegetarian for a little over a decade now, a decision I made because I decided I no longer wanted to eat factory-farmed meat, but for a long time I didn’t look into where the plants or processed products I was eating instead came from.

In the year before I started Appleseed, I started reading a lot more about industrialized agriculture in general, research that eventually provided a good chunk of the plot and the political worldbuilding in the near-future storyline. Among other questions, I earnestly wondered how companies might try to drastically engineer crops or even animals to survive in the future we were making, because it seems so likely that it has been done and will be done to greater degrees in the future. So maybe now I know more than I did when I started, but I think there are still a lot of complexities I don’t see easy answers to, especially as the climate crisis brings new challenges to agriculture everywhere. All those complexities, however, don’t change how angry I feel about companies like Monsanto trying to be sure they control the future, in effect deciding these questions for everyone else.

I realize this is a funny question for someone whose book is just hitting shelves, but what’s next for you? 

Next up for me is a craft book on novel writing, rewriting, and revision titled Refuse to Be Done, which will be out from Soho Press in March 2022. After that? Hopefully the novel I’m writing now, if all goes according to plan.

This article is part of the Climate Art Interviews series. It was originally published in Amy Brady’s “Burning Worlds” newsletter. Subscribe to get Amy’s newsletter delivered straight to your inbox.


Amy Brady is the Deputy Publisher of Guernica magazine and Senior Editor of the Chicago Review of Books. Her writing about art, culture, and climate has appeared in the Village Voice, the Los Angeles TimesPacific Standard, the New Republic, and other places. She is also the editor of the monthly newsletter “Burning Worlds,” which explores how artists and writers are thinking about climate change. She holds a PHD in English and is the recipient of a CLIR/Mellon Library of Congress Fellowship. Read more of her work at at and follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Katie Patrick Reveals ‘The Big Mistake’ Many Artists and Activists Too Often Make (and how to avoid it!)

By Peterson Toscano

Katie Patrick is the author of the book and podcast How to Save the World, and a TEDx speaker on the critical role of creativity, optimism, and imagination in the craft of social and environmental change. She shares with us industry secrets about how to motivate people to action. She also reveals The Big Mistake so many of us make in our climate work.

She designs “Fitbit for the planet” apps that help social impact entrepreneurs and sustainability professionals implement powerful data, game design, and behavior-change techniques that create real and measurable change. She is the co-founder of Energy Lollipop and Urban Canopy in San Francisco – startups that are devoted to bringing down the peak CO2 released by the electricity grid. 

If you think a gamified Earth sounds fun, you might enjoy joining these Fitbit for the Planet video hangouts Katie organizes each month with our community of world-changers and a special expert guest.

Next month: Elli Sparks, a climate change activist, wrote a story to encourage and comfort herself. After reading the story and sharing it with family, friends, colleagues, and at public events, we have turned it into a radio play.

If you like what you hear, you can listen to full episodes of Citizens’ Climate Radio on iTunesStitcher Radio, Spotify, SoundCloudPodbeanNorthern Spirit RadioGoogle PlayPlayerFM, and TuneIn Radio. Also, feel free to connect with other listeners, suggest program ideas, and respond to programs in the Citizens’ Climate Radio Facebook group or on Twitter at @CitizensCRadio.

This article is part of The Art House series.


As host of Citizens’ Climate Radio, Peterson Toscano regularly features artists who address climate change in their work. The Art House section of his program includes singer/songwriters, visual artists, comics, creative writers, and playwrights. Through a collaboration with Artists and Climate Change and Citizens’ Climate Education, each month Peterson reissues The Art House for this blog. If you have an idea for The Art House, contact Peterson: radio @


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Why Climate Emotions Matter

By Jennifer Atkinson

Is reason or emotion more important in driving climate action? Will solutions to mass extinction come from the head or the heart? Or are these binaries themselves part of the problem? While some climate activists argue that we should focus on facts instead of feelings, others know that our intense emotional response to climate chaos is far from irrational. Moreover, feelings like anger, hope, anxiety, and fear profoundly shape our perceptions of the world, and can motivate us to act or shut down and retreat. To better understand how those mental and emotional states relate to environmental crisis and public perceptions of risk, this episode explores why emotions matter in the climate battle.

This segment also looks at the work of Rachel Carson to explore how narrative can rouse the public to action, and draws on insights from evolutionary psychology to examine the ancient relation between mind and environment as expressed in feelings of love and wonder toward the natural world.

(Top image by Bjørn Tore Økland via Unsplash.)

Facing It is a podcast about climate grief and eco anxiety. It explores the psychological toll of climate change, and why our emotional responses are key to addressing this existential threat. In each episode of Facing It, I explore a different way we can harness despair to activate meaningful solutions.


Dr. Jennifer Atkinson is an Associate Professor of environmental humanities at the University of Washington, Bothell. Her seminars on Eco-Grief & Climate Anxiety have been featured in the New York TimesWashington Post Magazine, the Los Angeles TimesNBC News, the Seattle Times, Grist, the Washington PostKUOW and many other outlets. Jennifer is currently working on a book titled An Existential Toolkit for the Climate Crisis (co-edited with Sarah Jaquette Ray) that offers strategies to help young people navigate the emotional toll of climate breakdown.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Jessica Segall: Queer Ecologies

By Etty Yaniv

Throughout her highly imaginative multidisciplinary projects, Jessica Segall has been engaging with a wide range of fragile ecological sites, frequently with animals as her collaborators – for instance, swimming with tigers and sculpting with live bees. In this interview, Segall shares some of her work and thought processes, and talks about her upcoming projects. 

You are a multidisciplinary artist using a diverse range of media, some most unconventional – lemons, refrigerators, tigers. How do you choose your media? Can you give me a couple of examples?

The media in each work is chosen for its utility or ability to best answer a proposition. There also has to be a transformation. Usually one of the material questions is: Will this work? Sometimes half of the proposition hangs in the air for a while until I find its material counterpoint. Fugue in B Flat started that way, as a material prompt and then a proposal before it became a sculpture. I had always wanted to work with the free pianos available off of Craigslist – its an unusually available material in our time and place. Pianos once had high enough value in craftsmanship and social meaning that families would pay to have them hauled up flights of stairs. But today, an inherited piano is not worth enough to sell, or pay to have removed, so every day there are new pianos available for free in New York City.

Years later, when I was learning to keep bees, the piano resurfaced. Bees are the last animals we colonized into livestock. In more primitive beekeeping methods, bees formed their own hive structures in skeps, or baskets. But to more efficiently extract the honey without harming bees, the idea of “bee space” was utilized, which determines the size of beehive boxes and frame proximity. While the interior architecture of the beehive is laid out within 3/8 of an inch, the superstructure of a beehive could be anything, which led me to consider the piano as a potential hive, considering the available space in between the soundboard and harp.

There are other reasons to work with pianos and bees of course – I play music, studied Anthroposophy and am invested in ecological futures. But practically, the material has to perform.

Zzzzzzz, 30″ x 40″, photograph, 2016
Fugue in B Flat, 8′ x 5′ x 2′, piano, bees, live audio feed, 2016
Fugue in B Flat (detail), 8′ x 5′ x 2′, piano, bees, live audio feed, 2016

In your site-specific work, you seem to be drawn to vulnerable ecological sites. Can you talk a bit on what draws you there?

Yes, the sites I chose to work in have great ecological vulnerability, or speak to human vulnerability. They deal with both the human and geological timescales. The Arctic is a timeless space, a geological era before and after human life on earth. Placing the Global Seed Vault on Svalbard was a way of safekeeping our genetic future, but even there, the permafrost is unreliable, in a big part from our own making. I treated my visit to the agricultural basin of California as disaster tourism – the almond blooms in my photos are often confused for the cherry blossom in Japan. But that beauty is monoculture relying on the major efforts of on-demand water and pollination services. In a way, these are all economic landscapes, shaped by human consumption.

What do you think brought you to art?

Honestly, I was too young to remember! My first painting was on my grandfather’s easel. My family introduced me to art culture and activism from a young age. Growing up, I had a great-uncle who made kinetic Dada sculptures, and my cousin was a performance artist in the East Village in the 90s. Both my parents wrote books. Luckily there was a public arts school where I grew up so I’ve been focused on art for a long time.

I was attracted to the radical criticality of art. Its queer culture and discourse. I never imagined how much time I would spend writing grant proposals.

Tell me about “Nom Nom Ohm,” your installation from 2016. In the list of material I found fruits, root vegetables, and rewired chandeliers.

“Nom Nom Ohm” is in a vein of work examining alternative power sources and degrowth. It is also a modern day vanitas. They are chandeliers that are rewired to be powered by fruits and vegetables. I liked the idea of the chandeliers in the marketplace, powered by the fruits sold there and proposed this work to Cuchifritos in The Essex Market in New York City. The market was about to be relocated and this work was something of a visual for the transition from this long-standing neighborhood market into high rise luxury apartments.

Nom Nom Ohm (detail), chandeliers, fruits, vegetables, copper, zinc, light, dimensions variable, 2016. Photo by Bill Massey.

What can you tell me about your 2018 two-channel video installation “Un-common Intimacy” described on your website as “Performance swimming with predators at private wildlife parks in the United States.”

“Un-common Intimacy” was shot in private wildlife reserves in the six US states that allow private ownership of large predators. Today, there are more tigers in captivity than in the wild; strange colonial ecosystems that rely on private property but also voluntary guardians in service to a nexus of entertainment and conservation economies. That’s the setting. What you see in the video work is more of a blank slate as its filmed entirely underwater. I’m swimming with tigers and alligators, capturing the potential intimacies under these conditions.

Un-common intimacy, installation view, 2018Courtesy of Fons Welters Gallery.

Performance seems to be a constant in your work. In 2009, you had a performance called Tourist Crisis Center in collaboration with Tourist Artist Collective. I am curious to know more about that.

This was a project in collaboration with several other artists I studied with at Bard College – Anne Cleary, Jess Perlitz, Brigid McCaffrey and Jane Parrot. We were invited, via friend and poet Arlo Haskell, to The Studios of Key West to make a public work. Somehow we resolved to build an offshore public office for tourists in crisis. Symptoms included fugue states, and other crises one experiences when shifting from worker to full-time consumer. We built an office on dock floats, complete with a fax machine, a telephone, office plants and a rolling chair, while Arlo pulled us around the island with his boat, dropping us off at key points for public interface. We took turns manning the office, while dressed in our secretarial finest. Some of us helped tourists write letters home. Key West is the kind of unbelievable community that only gathers in the farthest reaches of land masses. We were stopped by the Coast Guard at one point by a concerned caller phoning in “a lady being dragged on a desk.” We were also stopped by border patrol as we tried to swim from our desk to shore, in the logic that we were a ruse for illegal immigration. That was in 2009. I can’t imagine what the politic would be today.

Artist as Tourist Collective, Tourist Crisis Center, desk, fax machine, typewriter, plants, 2009

Where do you think your work is heading now?

On the horizon is a mix of studio work in Brooklyn and opening up my practice to coordinating public events and activism. I am co-organizing a lecture series at my studio in Brooklyn on economy, ecology, and trust, along with other ways of seeing our environment – through queer ecologies and animism. There are several long term projects I’m working on strategizing land art as land conservation; methods to counteract increasing privatization of federal land, and the militarization of our borders.

In the studio I will be working on new multi-species sculptures and a video work making parallels between climate change and BDSM. I will be traveling a bit for site-specific work in Finland, France, and Columbia while keeping a studio base in Brooklyn.

(Top image: Un-common intimacy, video still, 2018. All photos courtesy of the artist unless otherwise indicated.)

This interview is part of a content collaboration between Art Spiel and Artists & Climate Change. It was originally published on Art Spiel on April 10, 2019 as part of an ongoing interview series with contemporary artists.


Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing, and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She has exhibited her immersive installations in museums and galleries, nationally and internationally. Yaniv founded the platform Art Spiel to highlight the work of contemporary artists through art reviews, studio visits, and interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. Yaniv holds a BA in Psychology and English Literature from Tel Aviv University, a BFA from Parsons School of Design, and an MFA from SUNY Purchase.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Elegizing Ice

By Susan Hoffman Fishman

New York-based artist and educator Jaanika Peerna grew up in Estonia during the Soviet era. Her drawings, installations, and performances all embody a sense of constant movement and change, either chaotic or orderly, that personifies the elements of water, ice, wind, air, and light. Peerna attributes many of the choices she has made about the materials she uses as well as her working methods to her childhood in her native land of ice and greyscale colors along the Baltic Sea. It was there where her body learned to embrace the movements specific to gliding on ice, where she observed the varied lines that skates made on the surface of ice, and where she mastered the use of the limited art materials available in the local Soviet-style school system – especially drawing with pencils on paper. To this day, she sees all of her work as drawing, “whether it is video or light installations, placing works in a room, drawing in space, leaving lines on paper, traces of movement and now performance.”

Ice skaters in Tallin, Estonia, Jaanika Peerna’s hometown. She spent four to five months each year outdoors on the ice.

Peerna moved to the United States 23 years ago. In 2009, she discovered the polyester film known as Mylar in her father-in-law’s architectural studio. It subsequently became the primary material she uses for her work. With its transparent, durable, and smooth qualities, Mylar reminded Peerna of ice. Around the same time that she adopted Mylar as her material of choice, she came across Stabilo water soluble, pigment pencils and admired the fat, dense lines they made. By chance, she moved one of the black pencils across a sheet of Mylar in her studio and saw how the line glided along the surface of the material without friction, like ice skates on ice. Using these black pencils on Mylar and with broad movements of her body, she began a number of large-scale drawings, which she ultimately called her Maelstrom series.

Movements in Grey, showing Jaanika Peerna at work in her studio, 2015

In 2009, Peerna exhibited her new work in Beacon, New York at the Go North Gallery and then in 2010, exhibited a second series of drawings on Mylar that she called Storms. Looking out of the window at the opening reception for the Storm drawings, she saw her friend Jane Thornquist, a dancer, moving her body outside in response to the drawings. Delighted at her friend’s reaction to her work, Peerna suggested that they develop a performance during which she would draw and Thornquist would then react to the drawing with movement. Based on the success of that effort and Peerna’s growing interest in performance, they collaborated a year later in New York City on a second piece that became a “call and response,” with each responding to what the other was doing. 

Maelstrom, pigment pencil on Mylar, 36” x 36”, 2010

Over the following years, Peerna continued to develop large-scale work with Mylar as well as performances at exhibition openings and/or closings. In 2014, she spent a pivotal year in Berlin where there were many more opportunities to practice public performance than had been available to her in the U.S. In 2018, wanting more direct interaction with her audiences, she created her iconic work, Glacier Elegy, an on-going project which incorporates audience members as critical components of the performances themselves. 

Glacier Elegy consists of Peerna herself, one or more large “scrolls” of Mylar or other sculptural elements formed from Mylar, water soluble pigment pencils (or not) and a block of ice (or sometimes more than one), and sometimes other performers. Each performance varies according to the site and ultimately evolves according to the choices that audience members make while they are participating. Although Peerna conducts the performances in silence, the sounds emanating from the movement of the Mylar itself become another element of the creative process.  

For example, in 2019, at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut, Peerna performed Glacier Elegy surrounded by drawings of her work on the walls of the large gallery. (See video above.) Slowly entering the space, she moved towards two rolls of Mylar, which were suspended from the ceiling, and unhooked them so that they unrolled and furled down towards the floor. After she moved under and around, interacting with the Mylar herself, she motioned without using words to two members of the audience to do the same. 

Glacier Elegy, October 22, 2019 at Real Art Ways, Hartford, Connecticut

As the performance proceeded, Peerna began to make lines on the Mylar with the pigment pencils and invited others to join her. Because the material was in motion, they too moved as they marked. Dozens of individuals filled the Mylar with lines and markings. She then introduced a block of ice, holding and embracing it as if it were the last, precious piece of ice remaining on Earth. Walking to the Mylar with the ice, she rubbed the melting ice over the lines, which began to bleed and run. Once again, with welcoming gestures, she invited others to help her “erase” what they had just made. 

Without words and with simple, accessible materials, Glacier Elegy effectively and viscerally addresses the climate crisis, and more specifically, the demise of glacial ice caused by human interference with the environment. On November 16, 2021, Glacier Elegies, an in-depth book on Peerna’s entire Glacier Elegyproject, will be published by Terra Nova Press. In addition to essays by Robert McFarlaneJanet Passehl, and Celina Jeffrey, the book includes an interview with Joana P. Nevers as well as extensive images of Peerna’s artworks and performances. 

Ice Memory, Peerna’s latest work, which combines both performance and exhibition together into one piece, is currently on view through August 29 at Gallery 222 in Hurleyville, New York. Measuring 12 ft. wide by 20 ft. long, the exhibition consists of a room-size drawing on Mylar, which hangs from the ceiling to the floor in a sloped curve “like a sledding hill.” At the opening for the exhibition, Peerna filled a plastic perforated tube, attached at the top of the work, with ice. As the ice melted onto the drawing over the course of the reception, visitors were mesmerized by the water dripping slowly down the mylar, in much the same way that one might be hypnotized watching waves repeatedly crashing onto the shore. 

Ice Memory, room size, sculpturally-installed drawing made with pigment pencil on Mylar, 12’ x 20’, 2021
Ice Memory, room size, sculpturally installed drawing made with pigment pencil on Mylar, 12’ x 20’, 2021 after one of eight ice melts over a two-month time period

Ice Memory will continue to evolve over the course of the exhibition during weekly “Melting Events” hosted by the gallery. With additional ice added to the perforated tube, many of the lines in the drawing will bleed into one another and eventually be erased. As the gallery notes, the process is “not unlike the changes we witness in our natural landscapes.” 

With all of her exhibitions and performances to date, Peerna has deferred from using explanatory text of any kind. For Ice Memory, however, she has provided a quotation from Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane as part of the exhibition because she finds his description of ice to be particularly moving and especially relevant to her work. 

Ice is a recording medium and a storage medium. It collects and keeps data for millennia. Unlike our hard disks and terabyte blocks, which are quickly updated or become outdated, ice has been consistent in its technology over millions of years. Once you know how to read its archive, it is legible almost as far back – as far down – as the ice goes. Trapped air bubbles preserve details of atmospheric composition. The isotopic content of water molecules in the snow records temperature. Impurities in the snow – sulphur acid, hydrogen peroxide – indicate past volcanic eruptions, pollution levels, biomass burning, or the extent of sea ice and its proximity. Hydrogen peroxide levels show how much sunlight fell upon the snow. To imagine ice as a “medium” in this sense might also be to imagine it as a “medium” in the supernatural sense: a presence permitting communication with the dead and the buried, across gulfs of deep time, through which one might hear distant messages from the Pleistocene.

Jaanika Peerna interprets our world as it exists today through line and motion. She invites us to join her in engaging with the elements of water, ice, wind, air, and light in all of their conditions. Using simple body movements and drawn gestures, she compels us to consider the transformations that have occurred in the natural environment and to mourn their passage. 

(Top image: Glacier Elegy Brooklyn, performance in public space with three performers and audience members, one block of ice, two sculptural elements, Brooklyn waterfront, New York City, October 20, 2020. All images courtesy of the artist.)

This article is part of Imagining Water, a series on artists of all genres who are making the topic of water and climate disruption a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances, projects and publications that are appearing in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme.


Susan Hoffman Fishman is a painter, public artist and writer whose work has been exhibited widely in museums and galleries throughout the U.S. Since 2011, all of her paintings, installations and photographs have addressed water and climate change. She co-created a national, participatory public art project, The Wave, which addresses our mutual need for and interdependence on water and has inspired thousands of adults and children of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to protect this vital resource. Her most recent work, called In the Beginning There Was Only Water is a new story about the creation of the world, a re-imagining of the natural world without humanity’s harmful impact upon it.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Photovoltaic Poetics

By Joan Sullivan

In the Global North, we do it every day, dozens of times every single day. Mindlessly, without nary a thought about how different life must have been 100 years ago before electricity became widely available. 

A simple flip of the switch, and voilà! Our lives are instantly transformed: night becomes day; air-conditioners offer temporary respite from heat domes; elevators whisk us to the top floors of skyscrapers; emails and text messages race across the globe; and increasingly, portable air purifiers filter coronaviruses and other airborne contaminants from our indoor lives.

Electricity. Our most intimate yet mysterious source of power, according to Barry Lord, author of Art & Energy: How Culture Changes. Most of us take it for granted, using it 24/7 for nearly every aspect of our modern lives, without really understanding what primary energy source produced it.

As a digital photographer, my entire artistic toolbox is 100% dependent upon a reliable supply of electricity. Not just when working in my office but perhaps more critically when I am out on a shoot. The list is endless: recharging batteries (for camera, flash, gimbal, drone); editing photos in Lightroom and Photoshop; storing and backing-up files; maintaining a website and creating online galleries for clients; taking advantage of online training programs and webinars; entering photo contests; applying for photo grants; uploading/downloading images to/from WeTransfer; sharing images on social; writing for this blog; keeping my cellphone charged and updated to communicate via text, email or FaceTime. And now Zoom! 

Access to 24/7 energy is a defining hallmark of our 21st century lives. But as dependent as we all are on a seemingly endless, uninterrupted supply of electrons, very few among us have taken the time to question where all this electricity comes from and/or how it is transported to power our homes, offices, schools, and businesses.

In his new book, A History of Solar Power Art and Design, Alex Nathanson argues convincingly that it’s high time for artists and designers to think seriously about energy in general, and about electricity from solar energy in particular. For me, the big takeaway from Nathanson’s book is that artists are uniquely qualified to help the rest of us think more deeply about electricity: not just where it comes from, but perhaps more importantly what it means to live such energy-dependent lives.

Before diving into Nathanson’s book, I think it’s important to remind ourselves that electricity is not synonymous with energy. Electricity is not a source of energy, but rather an application of other energy sources. These other energy sources are normally divided into two broad types: non-renewables versus renewables. However, there is another way to distinguish between these two types of energy: fuels (coal, oil, gas, nuclear) versus non-fuels (wind, water, solar, geothermal). 

After having photographed the energy transition for more than a decade, I am convinced that many more artists would take a second look at the energy transition if they visualized it as a transition from fuels to non-fuels. And here’s the teaser: non-fuels produce energy that is invisible, i.e., it’s mostly electrons. And who better than artists, poets, and musicians to express themselves through a medium that is invisible as well as infinite?

There’s so much potential here! 

Imagine JMW Turner with a 21st century palette: light, energy, transformation, hope…

Cell phone photo of JMW Turner’s Sun Setting over a Lake c.1840, taken in March 2021 at the breathtakingly beautiful exhibit Turner and the Sublime, Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec, Québec, Canada.

Now, back to Alex. Alex Nathanson is a multimedia artist, technologist, designer, and educator. He coined the term “the poetics of photovoltaics”, which I have unabashedly flipped for the title of my post. For his recently completed M.S. in Integrated Digital Media at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, Nathanson’s thesis became the outline for his new book, to be published next week by Routledge.

In an email exchange, Nathanson explained one of the main motivations for writing it:

There is a long history of artists and designers using photovoltaics (PV) for a very wide range of activities. These have included poetic and abstract explorations, critical and conceptually complex artworks, practical consumer devices, and in collaboration with scientists to support cutting edge scientific research initiatives. Up until now, all of these various activities were very isolated from one another. The public, and even many practitioners, have been unaware of the important work going on in this space. By looking at all of this activity in a cross-disciplinary way we can think about the possibilities and challenges of the energy transition differently.

The 211-page book is divided into 10 chapters, the first three of which introduce readers to the basic technical aspects and history of early PV design. I was particularly interested in Chapter 4, “Solar Art Comes Alive.” Here, Nathanson transports us back to the mid-20th century to better understand the enormous obstacles – including the lack of affordable solar components – that the first generation of PV artists had to overcome in order to incorporate some form of solar power into their avant-garde works.

I have bookmarked Chapter 4 for future reference; I will return to it frequently for my own research. Think of it as a Who’s Who of pioneering visionaries whose dogged determination resulted in a new solar aesthetic: Ted Victoria, Max Neuhaus, Joe Jones, Alvin Lucier, Jürgen and Nora Claus, Mark Tilden, Érik Samakh, Ulrike Gabriel, Allan Giddy, Christina Kubisch, Benoît Maubrey, and Joyce Hinterding.

According to Nathanson, these and other artists were motivated to embrace solar for a variety of environmental, political, social, financial, and technical reasons. He cites the three most common ways that artists have utilized PV to date:

  1. Artists who have PV technologies as the center of their work because of the unique affordances of the technology. These artists may be attracted to the material because of the precariousness and variability of solar power or other unique attributes of the technology (Nathanson describes this as the poetic attributes of PV).
  2. Artists who want to leverage an understanding of the technology to explore ideas relating to climate and the energy transition.
  3. Artists who want to use PV to power artworks, but are not necessarily concerned with it being perceived by the viewer. These artists may want to use PV because it is more environmentally friendly or because it allows them to site an artwork in a remote area.

Whatever their motivation for experimenting with and/or incorporating PV into their work, artists and designers have a key role to play in the energy transition, says Nathanson. He writes:

In order to integrate sustainable energy technologies, and PV in particular, into our lives in a way that is equitable, sustainable, and responsive to local needs, it must be accessible to the communities most impacted by the climate crisis and the infrastructure changes this crisis is forcing upon us. Whether it is through making PV more culturally relevant, teaching engineering concepts through STEAM pedagogy, making its electrical functions clearer to the non-engineer, or poetically reframing the way we think about energy infrastructure, there are many crucial roles that artists and designers can play, particularly in the context of energy justice. Sustainable energy art and design is about far more than simply something looking good. It is about building a more equitable future.

Of all the solar artists mentioned in Nathanson’s book, three have left a deep impression on me. I will dig further into each of their lives over the coming months to better understand their respective contributions to the new solar aesthetic.

Allan Giddy is a New Zealand-born sculptor and installation artist based in Sydney, Australia. Originally trained as an electrician, Giddy describes himself as “a pioneer in, and one of Australia’s foremost proponents of, sustainable energy systems, electronic interconnectivity and interactivity embedded in the physical art object.” For more than 20 years, Giddy has collaborated across disciplines to create a wide range of public art that, according to Nathanson, “often makes visible or audible natural phenomena, systems and cultural history through poetic installations rife with symbolism.”

One of Giddy’s solar installations, described in a short paragraph on page 76 of Nathanson’s book, caused me to involuntarily shout out “YES!” while reading. In 1998, Giddy installed Ice Heart on a public beach in Sydney. It featured a heart-shaped ice sculpture that was kept frozen by… you guessed it, solar power. Giddy describes the installation on his website:

A small glass chamber containing a heart moulded from ice sits atop a tiled pyramid. A solar-powered refrigerator unit hidden within the pyramid cools the chamber to freezing. Solar cells lying on beach towels around the pyramid provide the energy with which the ice heart is maintained. 

Yes, yes, yes, yes! More like this please!

I was also excited to read about the fruitful collaboration between two German artists, Jürgen and Nora Claus, now living in Belgium. The couples’ lives and work are centered around their bold vision of biospheric art – a return to art as a vehicle for connecting the viewer to natural rhythms, processes, and environments. In 1984, Jürgen was one of the earliest artists to use solar PV in outdoor public sculpture, starting with his Pyramid of the Sun. In 1993, the Claus duo co-founded the SolArt Global Network to unite artists worldwide using the power of sunlight as a creative medium or, in their own words, using the sun as “a partner and creator of art installations” with the ultimate goal of “sharpening our awareness of solar energy.”

Twenty-six years ago, Jürgen wrote about the importance of this global network; it could so easily have been written today. Nathanson paraphrases below: 

The necessity for the [SolArt Global] network, Claus wrote, was driven by the increasing urgency of ecological issues, awareness of the limits of fossil fuels, the growing desire for decentralization in politics and energy, and the growing demands of disenfranchised people globally to attain a higher quality of life. He argues that ecological stability in the 21st century must be rooted in cultural change and the loose network of artists sharing his vision for a “solar age” was a mechanism to achieve that goal. He goes on to say that this work is needed urgently and must begin immediately in order to address these issues by the year 2025, a call to action that society unfortunately did not hear.

Nathanson’s book introduces us to dozens of other cutting-edge solar artists, including textile artists, sound artists, electronic and multimedia artists. Cross-disciplinary collaboration is what unites them all, as Giddy suggests in the video above. For those artists interested in exploring the energy transition, I encourage you to get your hands on Nathanson’s book (use code FLY21 for 20% off when you purchase through Routledge’s website). It will jump-start your thinking about how to move beyond the blue rectangle of solar PV and, in Nathanson’s words, help you to embrace the poetic precariousness and variability of both the weather and solar power.

As the provocative creators of Juice Rap News reminded us back in 2014, we are “still living in the dark ages” by ignoring the most obvious fact: that the sun, at the center of our universe, should also be at the center of our energy strategies. Amen.

Top image by Joan Sullivan.

This article is part of the Renewable Energy series.


Joan Sullivan is a Canadian photographer focused on the energy transition. In her monthly column for Artists and Climate Change, Joan explores the intersection of art and the energy transition. She is currently experimenting with abstract photography as a new language to express her grief about climate breakdown. You can find Joan on Twitter and Visura.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Babs Reingold: Palette of Materials

By Etty Yaniv

In her multilayered installations, Babs Reingold brings together drawing, sculpture, found objects, and at times, video, to create potent environments alluding to the body, the environment, and the passage of time. Equipped with a fine-tuned sensibility to materiality and an imaginative approach to spatiality, Reingold’s installations inhabit spaces as an alternate force of nature and take a life of their own.

Your earlier installations seem to explore different materials, such as fabric and light, and thematically they seem to relate directly to social issues, such as in Hung Out in the Projects. Can you tell me about that installation work?

Because of my life circumstances of a young Jewish girl growing up in a tough and unsafe environment in a project on the east side of Cleveland, my main concern at childhood was survival. Hung Out In The Projects relates to this experience. I must confess, however, that decades later, my thoughts on poverty are more complex, more subtle, and, although totally personal, more universal.

Poverty was the 900-pound bag in my life. One exists concealed, fearful of exposure, trapped in a project culture that turns inward on itself to survive, propagating the very issues from which one hopes to escape. It, in turn, engenders shame and secrecy. Skin and hair are the exterior layers of humanity, a fragile boundary between what exists to the outside and what hides away. Clothing further reinforces the boundary, and distances what is truly inside.

Hung Out in the Projects, 19w x 40d x 14h ft, scaffold, pieces on clothesline and floor made of rust and tea stained silk organza, encaustic, animal skins, canvas, and human hair. Old windows, old pails, and cages. Light control box fades lights on and off. A sound piece of city noises and other sounds by the artist Lin Culbertson plays continuously on a boombox inside of an old trash can. Projected text on wall – thoughts and statistics on poverty – scroll, zoom and fade, 2008-2010.

In the Hung Out In The Projects installation, clotheslines are strung between structures and populated with odd shapes made from rust and tea stained silk organza and skins, some of which are stuffed with hair. Many resemble everyday apparel, but misshapen and distorted. Washing on the line may bring forth nostalgia for days long past, but here the washing is a semaphoric path to a secret interior. The floor is littered with old pails and objects found and made. Along one wall, a video of text crawls across with words of statistics of poverty and project life.

Viewers observe Hung Out In the Projects from a scaffold platform – in essence, a societal vantage point of superiority and security, where exiting an uncomfortable situation is always an option. Additionally, I invited sound artist Lin Culbertson to create an audio track to present an inescapable in-your-face discordant resonance of urban culture and eerie sounds, which contributes yet another fabric to the experience. The soundtrack is played on a boombox inside an old trashcan.

Your latest series, Hair Nest, is made of 10 works incorporating 10 years of hair loss, bringing together drawings of tree parts, fabricated 3-D or actual branches, a field of stones and other materials, fusing themes you have been dealing with of beauty and the environment. Can you elaborate on that?

I have always loved drawing, the mark making. But it was not until 2005 that drawing took a central role in my work with the series Fallout: Beauty Lost and Found, which is related to The Hair Nest series – out of which three pieces are completed: Hair Nest ’01Hair Nest ’15, and Hair Nest ‘16. I like the idea of documenting a decade of hair loss, what I thought of personally as my lost beauty. It’s a way of marking time and its passage. The series fuses my themes of beauty and environment. Each contains one 7-foot-high drawing of a tree part, and a cast or fabricated 3-D branch or actual branch. The branches are cast of glass, wax, or bronze, and fabricated of silk organza over wire mesh or paper. Each work contains a nest constructed from a year of my daily hair loss. It either sits on the branch or in a field of stones and other materials at the base of the drawing.

Elizabeth, 4w x 8d x 9h in., hair, encaustic, silk organza, wood, plywood, and copper wire mesh.

Aside from their aesthetic beauty, you may be interested to know scientists record 22 benefits trees provide related to air quality, climate change, erosion, and food, as well as numerous other comforts. Tree markings – scars and burns – and tree-ring dating provide yearly climate history. The markings speak of an existence affected by elements beyond their control, such as drought, fire, disease, and of course, humans. Yet, they endure. It is hardly a reach to blend tree drawings and limb sculptures with my signature component, human hair. Hair contains our complete DNA and lives beyond death. The perseverance of trees and the permanency of hair inspire the work and carry it forward.

Let’s dwell a bit longer on hair as it seems to be central in your work and you have been working with it since early on. How has the use of this material evolved for you from early sculptures such as Elizabeth (1998) to Hair Nest (2020)?

The use of hair began in 1995. I was looking for a way to simulate skin and came up with the concept of stuffing human hair into forms constructed of encaustic-coated silk organza. The hair protruded through the mesh of the organza, simulating the tiny hairs on the skin’s surface. Around the same time, I came upon a catalog for a wonderful exhibition on hair. Something about the pieces in that show inspired the box portrait series. Elizabeth is one piece from that series. The stuffed objects became larger, more complicated, and the staining process of the silk organza changed over the years as well.

I first began collecting my hair in 1998 because I was experiencing an unusual amount of hair loss due to a thyroid condition. At that time I had no idea how I would use it in my art, but that didn’t matter. Hair is a signature in my work and I use it to signify a number of ideas, including its intrinsic link to DNA. I think you’ll agree, hair is personal, endearing, and we identify with it.

Hair Nest ’16 (detail), 60w x 52d x 84h in., 2018-2020

You combine many forms of representation in your work which carry multiple layers of symbolism – tree stumps, roots stuffed with human hair. Curator Midori Yoshimoto stated that your work is “a cautionary requiem for humanity.” Let’s take a closer look at your installation The Last Tree from that material-symbolism perspective.

The stumps in this installation are a symbiotic link to hair living beyond death and perhaps, a collective binder for mortality. The stumps are scarred and stitched and contain multiple textures. They are made of transformed silk organza stained with rust and tea and stuffed with human hair. Metaphorically, surfaces mimic faults, whether human or natures.

The 193 pails holding the stumps are the recognized countries in the world. The lone tree among the enclosed stumps stands tall, but will it survive? That is the question facing us, isn’t it?

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The Last Tree, 40w x 25d x 15h ft, silk organza, cheesecloth, chiffon, rust, tea, human hair, encaustic, wool, string, thread, 194 pails, and a video of tree chopped by ax and chain saw with an original soundtrack by Lin Culbertson. Installed at Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, NY, 2013- 2016.
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The Last Sea, about 144w x 168d x 36h in., wood boat coated with paper mâché and modeling paste, graphite, and rust and tea stains. Animals and ladder: rust and tea stained silk organza stuffed with human hair, cheesecloth, leather, thread, yarns, and nails, plastic trash, 2018.

You mentioned that concerns about the environment have turned you from primarily painting to owning space via installations. Can you tell me more about that transition?

I am concerned about issues that focus on poverty as well as the environment. Both drove my work toward installation. My first room size installation was La Longue Durée at the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2003. Once on this path, I didn’t look back. My largest installations to date are Hung Out In The Projects and The Last Tree. The transition began earlier though. I gravitated towards sculpture in the mid-90s. Up to that point I was making large paintings of women bodybuilders. The nineties was the height of installation art in New York. Women artist were creating monumental sculptures and installations. I thought it was the most exciting art happening within that milieu. It became the art for me.

In the early 90s, three-dimensional objects crept onto my paintings until, in an almost inexplicable yet irresistible momentum, installation and sculpture replaced painting. I believed this transformation allowed me to more fully occupy space and manipulate time. I became increasingly aware of contemporary female artists who were producing exciting and provocative three-dimensional and site-specific installations. Among them, were large cell sculptures by Louise Bourgeois, the incredible Light Sentence by Mona Hatoum, monumental pieces by Ursula von Rydingsvard, and the visceral wax pieces by Petah Coyne. Further, I delved back into the 60s and 70s and reacquainted myself with Eva Hesse, Ana Mendieta, and others. All these women artists were utilizing materials in new and different ways. It was experimentation that inspired new visions and I wanted to be a part of it.

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Baggage Light, 144w x 72d x 108h in., silk organza, hair, encaustic, string, rust, tea, wood, clear light bulbs, and light control box. Installed at Artspace Gallery in Hartford, CT, 2004.

I began experimenting with unique materials to create new spaces, moving far beyond my sculptural pieces constructed of fiberglass and dry pigments. I developed a unique signature, utilizing a bath of rust and tea combined with an encaustic process to stain silk organza and paper.

I continue this path today. It is an evolving process and experimentation continues with an expanded palette of materials – cast wax, iron, and glass, repurposed materials and recycled in the progression.

(Top image: Babs Reingold in the studio with Hair Nest ’01, Hair Nest ’16, and Hair Nest ’15. All photos courtesy of the artist.)

This interview is part of a content collaboration between Art Spiel and Artists & Climate Change. It was originally published on Art Spiel on March 2, 2021 as part of an ongoing interview series with contemporary artists.


Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing, and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She has exhibited her immersive installations in museums and galleries, nationally and internationally. Yaniv founded the platform Art Spiel to highlight the work of contemporary artists through art reviews, studio visits, and interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. Yaniv holds a BA in Psychology and English Literature from Tel Aviv University, a BFA from Parsons School of Design, and an MFA from SUNY Purchase.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Wild Authors: Neus Figueras

This month, I have an interview with author Neus Figueras, whose children’s book Lorac is beautifully illustrated and written. Inspired by the coral reefs near Myanmar, where Neus spent time doing restoration, this story is aimed toward the younger generation but immensely enjoyed by adults as well.

About the Book

Lorac didn’t set out to be the voice of the ocean, but when the future is at stake, being a hero is the only choice. Lorac, the youngest of a family of sea nomads, suffers a series of unfortunate events and has to seek refuge in the heart of the sea. The transition isn’t easy, and unexpected difficulties arise. But helped by his new friend Zoe, Lorac joins a family of centenarian creatures and discovers the secrets of the coral reef – his real home. A threat that affects the marine world, however, makes him depart to the place he once knew and now knows no more, in a daring mission to save the ocean – and the planet. Lorac will have to make difficult decisions, live in worlds where he doesn’t belong, and prove his worth for the good of all. Science and fantasy come together in an adventure of hope and courage that transmits an important message to protect our environment.

Chat with the Author

Tell us about yourself – your life so far and how you got started in writing. Have you published anything before Lorac?

I started writing at an early age because I am a highly sensitive person and crafting stories helps me to project the great amount of stimulus I perceived from my surroundings ― and as I grew up, from the world. I remember that I wrote my first “unofficial” novel at the age of ten and that my friends begged me to tell them stories that I improvised as I went along (yes, we grew up without mobile phones).

Since then, I have taken several courses in creative writing, won six local and regional literary contests, and only stopped writing when I went to the Canary Islands to study Marine Sciences. I must admit that it was difficult to choose science over the humanities, but my insatiable curiosity and passion for nature won out and I knew that I could always continue my career as a writer on my own.

To be honest, my scientific career has helped me as a writer because writers tell truths for the world and science has allowed me to know our world on another level.

Lorac is my first novel. Before it, I wrote countless short stories and one novelette.

Tell us something about your novel. Who is the intended audience, and what’s going on in the story?

The story follows the life of Lorac, which begins with the traditional way of living of an Indigenous community of sea nomads – I personally met them while I was restoring coral reefs in Myanmar. Then, Lorac suffers a series of unfortunate events and has to seek refuge in the heart of the sea along with his new friend Zoe, the book’s most fantasy character although “she” actually exists. Finally, climate change and pollution come into play, sending Lorac out into our world on a mission to restore the balance of his true home, the ocean.

It is recommended for adults and teens eleven and older as it deals with the value of family and friendship, death, growing up, and global Earth issues. But, as anything related to art, nothing is rigid, and so far I’ve heard of an 8-year-old girl who devours books and read Lorac in two days, and of a retired man who loves historical literature but gave Lorac a try and it got him so hooked that he read it in one sitting.

What sorts of ecological themes does your novel have, and how were you inspired to write about them?

It has very interesting information about marine life, deals with how our impacts on the ocean have increased over time, especially due to climate change, pollution, and overfishing, and shows what we need to do to reverse this.

I was inspired to write about these things because I was working with coral reefs. And unless there is global action on climate change, our reefs are projected to be almost completely lost at 2ºC warming, a threshold that will be reached within the lifetime of many of us.

So I wanted to create a story that would convey, in an exciting and clear way, the need to conserve our planet. For the first time in my life, I wrote not because I needed to, but because it was necessary. Everyone’s contribution, however small, is vital to maintaining the planet that sustains us – a message that the book supports in a positive and inspiring way.

After publication, did you do any book fairs or talks? How would you describe the reaction to your book? Is it hard to market during the coronavirus?

Yes, I have done many, until we had to stop because of the coronavirus, but I kept doing online events.

Marketing is difficult with or without the coronavirus. I am much better at and prefer to write, but for Lorac I make the effort to do marketing because all the proceeds go towards spreading awareness of the book to help the urgent task of preserving life on Earth.

Readers’ most common reactions to Lorac is that they find they can relate to the characters and they feel the need to protect our environment. Some even have gone “Wow!” and laughed at the bantering. It has even managed to capture the attention of one reader who is not into sea-based books. Others think it would make a nice animated film, and many point out how it highlights the issues around ocean conservation in a impactful and empowering way.

Personally, I have seen Lorac succeed in changing people’s attitude towards the environment – people who, after several years of trying, I thought would never change.

Are you working on anything else right now, and do you want to add other thoughts about your book?

I’m editing a novelette I wrote some time ago, and I’m “baking” the structure of a story (so I haven’t started yet, and I’ll just write it if it turns out the way I hope) that will use some “seeds” I scattered in Lorac to create a sequel: a second book whose theme will be how biodiversity loss makes us more susceptible to pandemics.

We are also translating Lorac into French and Portuguese (it is currently available in Spanish and English).

This all sounds so incredibly cool. Thanks, Neus!

(Top image: Detail of one of Lorac’s illustrations by Evan Piccirillo.)

This article is part of our Wild Authors series. It was originally published on


Mary Woodbury, a graduate of Purdue University, runs, a site that explores ecology in literature, including works about climate change. She writes fiction under pen name Clara Hume. Her novel Back to the Garden has been discussed in Dissent Magazine, Ethnobiology for the Future: Linking Cultural and Ecological Diversity (University of Arizona Press), and Uncertainty and the Philosophy of Climate Change (Routledge). Mary lives in Nova Scotia and enjoys hiking, writing, and reading.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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