Posts Tagged ‘environmentalist’

Art: Cara Despain via the gallery Current Work.
Increasing numbers of artists are addressing climate disasters, as in “test still no. 1 (Upshot-Knothole — Simon)” (2022), graphite on paper, above.

I always feel grateful to artists for the way they make the invisible visible to those of us who lack a second sight.

Hyperallergic recently posted an article about artists using ash and residue from natural disasters to convey their messages about the environmental calamity they perceive.

Reporter Scotti Hill gets a bit sidetracked by other environmental disasters in the Hyperallergic article, but I thought her words on the art itself were worth sharing.

“Many of us recall the haunting early pandemic-era imagery of individuals wandering amid orange, smoke-filled backdrops that synthesized the reoccurring horror of wildfires on the West Coast and beyond. Such images accompanied headlines of widespread home evacuations, wildlife loss, and blankets of smoke covering entire states.

“Now artists on a local and international scale are using their craft to bring attention to this issue, using a novel formal process — cultivating ash and residue from natural disasters, namely fires, as an actual medium of expression.

Cara Despain’s work, which ranges from public installation to video and painting, confronts complex issues of wildfires, nuclear testing, and land use in her native Utah and beyond. Her latest exhibition, Ashes of Her Enemy, [has been] on view at new Salt Lake City gallery Current Work. …

“Upon encountering Despain’s photographs of beautiful landscapes, chosen by the artist for their similarity to famously iconic Western views like Monument Valley, one detects a scarring on the face of each image. Here, Despain devised a frame with a fuse inside that, when lit on one side, ripples across the image, burning the pristine image in its wake. She ignited each of the images at the exhibition opening for an active audience. To Despain, this process is a metaphor for the West’s changing landscape and the fallacy of pristine nature untouched by human intervention. …

“Despain’s wildfire paintings … are made from the soot of the wildfires that share their name. She crafted the works’ scale and composition to work in dialogue with large-scale Thomas Moran-style landscape paintings. …

“Despain is not the first artist to incorporate ash into her creative process. Artist Zhang Huan crafts large-scale paintings made from the ash residue of burned incense used in Buddhist temple ceremonies. By foraging ash from various temples around Shanghai, Huan sees the ash as symbolic of ‘the fulfillment of millions of hopes, dreams, and blessings,’ according to his website.

“In the months preceding the pandemic, Filipino artist Janina Sanico used ash from the active Taal Volcano in her watercolors, while German artist Heide Hatry incorporated cremated remains into darkly meditative portraits. …

“This fall, the Palo Alto Art Center debuted Fire Transforms, an exhibition featuring several Bay Area artists whose work considers the impact of fire in the area of the country most fraught by wildfire devastation. … 

“Artist Andrea Dale forages the burnt remnants of plants and human-made structures left in the aftermath of California wildfires. Her application of ash draws inspiration from East Asian ink wash painting with an application that is at once loose and also sequestered to the bottom quarter of pristine resin-covered panels. New Mexico-based Nina Elder crafts intricately detailed drawings of decimated forests from the incinerated debris of pulp mills to ‘focus the viewer on the textures and scale of deforestation,’ according to her site.

” ‘We often look at big catastrophes, but it’s the small stuff that’s going to get us,’ [Despain] explained in an interview at Current Work of the particulate matter left behind after fires, often invisible yet enormously destructive. Despain emphasizes that fire is a natural part of environmental ecology, yet the increased prevalence and scale of wildfires is unprecedented and follows a decades-long history of nuclear testing. …

“For Despain, the story of the West’s atomic testing is personal — her mother grew up in Southern Utah’s Cedar City. Due to atomic testing, half of her high school class died early of various radiation-related ailments. … After the war, expansive areas of government-owned land north of Las Vegas were designated as optimal sites for domestic nuclear testing. [Residents] of Southern Utah’s Iron County received assurances that atomic testing was being carried out with utmost safety. Yet, in the years to come, those same residents would suffer startlingly high rates of cancer, birth defects, and adverse health issues. …

“Such histories often recede into the realm of whispers, relegated to the annals of history and individual familial tragedy. Yet, they are part of the indelible fabric of the West both past and present that are connected to the environmental calamity unfolding before us. Formally, artistic processes which imbue ash and residue visualize the otherwise infinitesimal markers of this legacy.”

More at Hyperallergic, here. No firewall. Contributions welcome.

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Photo: Chenyao Liu.
Elsa Barron speaks at Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light’s Faith Climate Summit, where she was moderating a panel on environmental justice, Oct. 10, 2021.

No group of people is monolithic. All individuals have their own individual views. Which is why we should never assume anything about people who identify with a particular group.

An ESL teacher I work with attends a congregation where almost everyone’s politics are X although hers are Y. She sends her daughter to their school because she loves it overall, but she teaches her daughter some differences at home.

I’m sharing an article that gets into religion just because I thought it was interesting, but if it offends anyone, I hope you know you can tell me. It’s about a small but growing group of American evangelical environmentalists.

Erika Page has the story at the Christian Science Monitor.

“Should I stay or go? It was a question Elsa Barron had wrestled with on her own for years. Now, at a public panel on faith and the climate at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, she was on the verge of voicing it aloud to a crowd of strangers.

“The panelists, faith leaders from the All Africa Conference of Churches, hadn’t named names. But Ms. Barron had gleaned the message. One of the biggest impediments to climate action in their communities was … her home community: evangelical Americans, who hold an outsize influence in missionary ministries in Africa.

“She had bitten her tongue through the Q&A session, nervous about being vulnerable in such a high-profile crowd. But just as the moderator moved to close the event, she felt her hand shoot up.

“ ‘I grew up in that community,’ she recalls admitting to the panel, heart racing. ‘What is needed from me in this moment?’ 

“For evangelical environmentalists, the temptation to leave the church behind and take their climate concerns elsewhere is high. This is especially true among younger generations, who [are] more likely to worry about climate change than their elders. Ms. Barron, for one, stood on the brink of abandoning her faith just a couple of years ago. 

“So the response she got from those panelists at COP26 last November has stuck with her. 

“ ‘If you have the opportunity to be rooted in your community, asking questions, pushing for change, and advocating for communities that don’t have an inroad to these spaces, then that’s probably the biggest thing you can do,’ she remembers being told. 

“The choice to stay and fight has not been easy, demanding resolve, patience, and the courage to speak up, again and again. But at a time when writing off those with differing views has become commonplace, Ms. Barron has found that her empathy and love for her community [have] helped her work with, instead of against, those on the ‘other’ side of the climate divide. 

“ ‘It takes a lot of courage to not just pick one side or the other, especially in such an extremely polarized society,’ says Melanie Gish, author of God’s Wounded World: American Evangelicals and the Challenge of Environmentalism. …

“In the United States, climate awareness and urgency have grown steadily in recent years. … Even among white Evangelicals, thought has been shifting. A poll conducted by Yale and other groups in 2020 found that 44% of them attributed global warming to human activity, up from 28% when the Pew Research Center asked a similar question in 2014.

“And the National Association of Evangelicals just renewed a call to action to mitigate the environmental crisis from a ‘biblical basis,’ updating a report from 2011. Yet climate skepticism remains disproportionately high among evangelical Christians, even compared with other religious groups. Some evangelical leaders have pitted environmental movements against religion, painting the former as a politically motivated threat to a faith-driven life. Many simply don’t see church as the place to address environmental concerns. …

“[At the University of Notre Dame, Ms. Barron read] one little book that hit her ‘like a ton of bricks.’ The text was Laudato Si, the 2015 encyclical on ‘care for our common home’ written by Pope Francis. She still remembers her visceral response to her first read.

“ ‘It felt like, “Oh my goodness, how did I miss this?” ‘ she says. Until then, her religion and her love for the natural world had existed in separate spheres. Now, she began to see the environmental crisis as a deeply spiritual crisis, built on a foundation of greed, extraction, and irreverence. And with that understanding came an accompanying spiritual obligation. 

“ ‘If we don’t care about it and don’t do something about it, we’re failing to fulfill two of our callings as people of faith: to care for creation and to love our neighbors,’ she says over Zoom from her family’s home in Illinois. 

“That’s the idea behind ‘creation care,’ an environmental movement grounded in biblical direction, such as the duty to ‘tend and keep’ the Garden of Eden. … The ideas have been more readily adopted outside the U.S., especially in places on the front lines of climate change. …

“Even though creation care, also known as environmental stewardship, has become more widely accepted in the U.S., being a young evangelical environmentalist can be lonely. …

“[Ms. Barron’s] mother texted her about a group called Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. YECA was founded with the support of the Evangelical Environmental Network in 2012. In addition to the group’s advocacy, the organization trains youth fellows on writing op-eds, talking to representatives, leading projects in their own communities, and engaging effectively with church members and leadership.

“Ms. Barron says she held back none of her trepidation in her application essay to be a fellow – and was welcomed into the fold. For the first time, she met a host of evangelical environmentalists grappling with similar questions, while working to shift the culture on climate within their own churches and college campuses. …

“ ‘It starts with conversations; it starts with one-on-ones … telling your church leaders and pastors what you’re passionate about,’ says Tori Goebel, national organizer and spokesperson for YECA. ‘It’s not necessarily about facts and statistics and different scientific figures, but rather it’s just sharing stories and connecting to shared values.’ ” 

More on Evangelical environmentalists at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Jack Alterman
Linda Lear’s books include biographies of Beatrix Potter and Rachel Carson.

In 2015, I wrote here about Linda Lear’s excellent biography of Beatrix Potter, which highlights the scientific side of the beloved children’s book author /illustrator /land preservationist.

More recently, when my husband and I were watching a television special on Rachel Carson (author of The Sea Around Us and Silent Spring), I saw Lear being interviewed and realized she’d written a biography of Carson, too.

So I went to Linda Lear’s web page to learn more about her.

“Whenever my parents drove over the Allegheny River into downtown Pittsburgh from the rural community of Glenshaw where I was born,” Lear reports, “I begged my father not to go over the bridge that crossed the river above the stock yards.

“There were animal parts visible in the yard, and debris strewn along the river’s edge. The smell of dead animals mixed with the stench of sulfur from the smelting operations further down river. We talked about why the city was dirty, the river polluted, and what we could do about it. For generations my family had been involved in the natural world and from them I learned to appreciate and nurture it.

“My grandfather loved books and loved to read to me when I was little. Our favorites were fairy tales, [Grimm brothers] and [Hans Christian Anderson], Lewis Carroll, and any sort of animal fable. We loved Aesop, Br’er Rabbit, Uncle Wiggly, and of course, Peter Rabbit. He introduced me to the nonsense rhymes of Edward Lear, and to illustrators such as [Mary Jo] Beswick, Walter Crane, and Beatrix Potter.

“From my grandparents and from my mother, I absorbed the pleasures of gardening, herbaceous and perennial, learning the names of plants, and later of making a garden of my own. I always loved woodland flowers and animals. I became adept at rescuing stray kittens and baby rabbits, and finally got a healthy kitten of my own.

“I was educated at women’s schools until my graduate work at Columbia University. Before finishing my doctorate, I taught American history at independent schools, and fortunately ended up teaching at one in Washington, D.C. in the late 1960s — just in time to become an activist.

“I have had a long career in college and university teaching and have written a variety of books and articles. I began to specialize in environmental history just as the field was being defined. Fellowships at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book Library and at the Smithsonian Institution allowed me to redefine myself as a full-time writer.”

Read her comments on her books here.

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