words by Willow Defebaugh
Welcome to The Overview, a weekly newsletter in which Editor-in-Chief Willow Defebaugh offers an expansive look at the latest events in climate and culture—and how it all fits together.
“I believe [there] is an increasing desire for the natural world—the tactile, the earth—a kind of sense of actually experiencing something on a physical level, not on a synthetic level,” says conceptual artist Doug Aitken.
“New Horizon,” Aitken’s latest oeuvre, explores this idea on a grand scale—a 100-foot one, to be precise. Over the course of the last month, his massive hot air balloon has been making a journey across Massachusetts, with a reflective surface that mirrors its environment. Various stops along the way serve to hold space for conversations between scientists and artists about the future—appropriately hosted by The Trustees, a nonprofit land conservation trust founded in 1891 by landscape architect Charles Eliot, who foresaw a future in which nature needed protection from being devoured by industrialization. Head to our IGTV to watch a film on the project, created exclusively for Atmos.
Historically, art and science have rarely been considered to be bedfellows, but that is shifting. If art’s task is to reflect the world around it—literally, in the case of “New Horizon”—then it was only a matter of time before it turned its attention to the climate crisis. A plethora of exhibitions bridging the gap between these two fields have emerged this year, including Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival at the Triennial in Milan, Hudson Rising at the New York Historical Society, Nature at the Cooper-Hewitt, Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment in Massachusetts, and Documenting Change: Our Climate (Past, Present and Future) in Colorado.
“We’ve got a tremendous desire on the part of scientists to engage with different audiences and a desire on the part of humanists and artists to grapple with the immensity of the problems we’re facing right now,” as Erin Espelie, co-director of the Nature, Environment, Science & Technology Studio for the Arts at the University of Colorado, recently told the Times.
Individual works have popped up around the world as well. In Paris, Dutch artist Thijs Biersteker collaborated with scientist Stefano Mancuso to create “Synmbiosia,” which illustrates the impact of the climate crisis on local trees. In Miami’s mural-laden Wynwood neighborhood, local artist Reinier Gamboa has painted the “Anthropocene Extinction,” a series that depicts Southern Florida’s most beloved animals—only when you download the corresponding app and hold it up to the murals, you see the perils they face (think plastic six-pack rings floating by manatees, and so on).
What is perhaps the most emotionally impactful artifact to be created as of late comes in the form of a memorial for Iceland’s first glacier lost to climate change. The plaque, which will be installed at the end of August by a group of scientists, researchers, and the general public, reads: “Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and know what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”
Meanwhile, the 1975 tapped 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg to speak on the opening of their newest track, a sign that the urgency of our present situation has not fallen on the deaf ears of mainstream music. “We have to acknowledge that the older generations have failed,” she says. “All political movements in their present form have failed. But homo sapiens have not yet failed. Yes, we are failing, but there is still time to turn everything around.”