Exhibit Reckons With Emotional Reality of Climate Change

Featured image credit: Reagan West-Whitman

PEC recently partnered with the Pittsburgh art gallery Contemporary Craft on an ongoing exhibit that seeks to increase awareness and inspire meaningful dialogue about climate change.

Climate Awakening: Crafting a Sustainable Future features four artists whose work explores the relationship between climate change and human activities: Virginia-based Susie Ganch; Meghan Price of Quebec; and Courtney Mattison and Adrien Segal, who both live in California.The pieces employ both data-driven and creative approaches, leading viewers through a journey where art, science, and creativity converge. 

One of the largest pieces in the exhibit, titled Remember Me, Katrina, was made from thousands of disposable coffee cup lids to mark the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. From across the gallery, viewers see materials arranged in swirling patterns that represent weather currents in the Gulf of Mexico. Closer inspection reveals the piece’s material reality. Coffee lids bear marks of their brief usage, such as lipstick stains and caramel residue — all of which, Ganch says, “tell a story.”

“Each of these was touched by a different set of lips,” Ganch explained. “And so it’s our collective complicity in the actions that we are participating in.”

Contemporary Craft invited visitors to write down their thoughts on climate change and climate action at their new exhibit (photo: Reagan West-Whitman)

In her artist statement, Ganch discusses how her recent work plays on the concept of solastalgia, which she defines as a sense of “anticipatory loss” experienced when contemplating the future effects of a changing climate. Her work harnesses these feelings to challenge consumer practices that contribute to environmental degradation.

Trained as a geologist, Ganch began her artistic career by crafting jewelry, but traded metal for plastic after recognizing her own reliance on unsustainably-sourced materials. Today, Ganch’s preferred medium is trash and repurposed materials, including single-use plastics that symbolize for her “our worship of the present and our disregard for the future.”

Climate Awakening: Crafting a Sustainable Future attracted audiences of all ages (photo: Reagan West-Whitman)

As Pennsylvania faces more extreme weather and more frequent, severe flooding, the effects of climate change hit ever closer to home. Associate Director Yu-San Cheng said that Contemporary Craft wanted to expand the impact of the new exhibit beyond the confines of the gallery through partnerships and events.

“One of the big goals when we feature a social justice exhibition is to invite and engage with community members and organizations,” Cheng said.

In addition to the exhibit, Contemporary Craft hosted a Climate Awakening Forum in October. The event featured PEC’s John Walliser, Senior Vice President for Legal & Government Affairs, who spoke about energy and climate policy in Pennsylvania.

California-based Adrien Segal interprets scientific data through wood and glass to represent natural landscapes (photo: Reagan West-Whitman)

“Climate change can seem so amorphous even though we are experiencing it in real-time, firsthand,” Walliser said. “So when you see the artwork and also hear what people are doing at the small scale and the larger scale, it really helps put the pieces together.”

Adrien Segal is interested in making scientific data more accessible, intuitive, and impactful by transforming it into sensory experience. Her “data sculpture,” Molalla River Meander, depicts how the course of Oregon’s Molalla River has changed over a 15-year period, based on LIDAR maps from the USGS Oregon Water Science Center. Segal believes interpreting complex phenomena like diminishing Arctic sea ice as aesthetic objects makes climate change real and immediate for audiences.

“Humans are emotional creatures,” Segal said. “If we are going to change the way that we live and make better decisions about what we want the future to be it comes down to an emotional response, not a rational one. My work is about how [to] create an experience for someone that allows them to have an emotional experience.”