A climate ‘wake-up call,’ pollution turned paint and more


It can be hard to connect with nature in our daily lives. But with a little help, you can find nature everywhere. With that in mind, here’s some recent arts and culture news to help bring nature to life for you, wherever you are.

1. Art to inspire a climate ‘wake-up call’

In a new exhibit, the Serpentine Galleries in central London are spotlighting the beauty in nature — and how climate change could soon destroy it if we don’t act fast to curb emissions.

With more than 60 contributing artists, poets and filmmakers, the exhibit is meant to “be a wake-up call for people,” Hans Ulrich Obrist, the Serpentine’s artistic director, told The New York Times.

“We could never say that art can solve this very massive problem,” he said. “But I think no field can solve this on its own. I think we can only address this extinction crisis if we work together — science, art, politics , all the different fields.”

Spanning both indoors and out, the exhibit features sculptures across different mediums, including a pine structure created by artists Tabita Rezaire and Yussef Agbo-Ola for drying medicinal plants; an 820-foot-long flower bed for pollinators created by artists Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg; a sound installation by the late artist Brian Eno and more.

“There is a clear need for communicating climate change,” Vikki Thompson, a climatologist at the University of Bristol in England, told The New York Times. “It is brilliant that exhibitions such as the Serpentine’s continue to be commissioned, encouraging more people to start talking and thinking about the climate crisis.”

To broaden its call to climate action, the Serpentine Galleries even gave its cafe a makeover, featuring a “climavore” menu that uses only sustainably caught seafood and seasonal vegetables.

2. A heavy metal concert series to stress the harms of heavy metals

Musicians dressed in full hazmat suits playing heavy metal music in a field in northwest China’s Qinghai Plateau may seem a bizarre sight.

But once you listen to their lyrics, the band’s mission becomes clear: “A person’s life is but a single breath, a breath laced with garbage. From village to town there’s trash. From village to city, the trash is burned,” they sing .

Led by a Chinese artist known as Nut Brother, this concert is part of a series created to bring attention to heavy metal pollution across China. Although the country’s air quality has improved in recent years, Nut Brother explained that soil and water contamination from trash burning is worsening — and seeping into soil and water in rural communities.

“We met many villagers who basically have no channels to redress rights violations other than to petition or call the relevant authorities to complain,” Nut Brother told The Washington Post. “Villagers who suffer are the most voiceless group. It is hard to hear their voices in the outside world. In life, they don’t clasp to fantasies or miracles, otherwise they suffer more.”

This isn’t the first time Nut Brother’s art has brought attention to China’s environmental issues: In 2015, he traversed the busy sidewalks of Beijing with a large vacuum cleaner in tow, angled toward the smoggy skies.

“Our projects are not really radical,” Nut Brother told The Washington Post. “We don’t get things moving through confrontation, but rather we move things forward through imagination.”

3. Transforming pollution into paint

Starting in the 19th century, the US state of Ohio hit a coal mining boom. But the surge was short-lived, and coal mines were quickly abandoned — leaving behind acidic wastewater with high concentrations of sulfuric acid and dissolved iron.

Seeping into freshwater ecosystems and drinking supplies, this toxic waste poses an issue for both people and wildlife.

But for artist John Sabraw, the bright orange waste became an opportunity to draw attention to the pollution in Ohio. Working with environmental engineer Guy Riefler and the nonprofit Rural Action, Sabraw uses pollutants from mining as a base to create artist-grade paints by extracting the iron oxide — a common ingredient in paints, ceramics and makeup.

“As we toured southeastern Ohio, I was struck by local streams that are not only devoid of aquatic life, but are orange, red and brown, as if from a mudslide upstream,” Sabraw told Time. “I thought it would be fantastic to use this toxic flow to make paintings.”

Once the iron oxide is extracted, Sabraw and partners heat it and the material changes colors depending on the temperature. The dried powder is then mixed with resins, polymers or linseed oil to make different types of paint, which Sabraw is using to make his latest art collection.

Dubbing his creations “Toxic Art,” he recently produced a collection of vibrant and colorful paintings, which he hopes will inspire other artists to join the fight against pollution.

“Now [artists] feel that they are a part of the conversation in a very real way,” Sabraw told CNN.

Kiley Price is the managing editor at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: Acid-mine drainage, Ohio (© Jack Pearce)



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