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IT'S GETTING HOT ON EARTH! HOW CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS DRAW ATTENTION TO ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES


On a gloomy, rainy, November-ish Sunday morning, all wrapped up in a raincoat I'm making my way through the Christmas market to the fitness studio. The past few months have flown away, but the winter seems to have forgotten to catch up and adorn the market booths with snow. Ah, just look at those white little angels having their wings soaked in raindrops! Have they ever expected to perch on a snowless land on such a mild December morning?

Swamped with our daily lives and now dizzy from Christmas shopping fever, most of us have no time to reflect on how our daily routines, habits and choices affect the environmental change. Others go green only formally: they recycle as it's mandatory by regulation, but at the same time are not bothered to turn the lights off when they leave the house.


It's not easy to change long-lasting habits, when we can't see their very direct, immediate impact upon the environment. But whether we notice the change or not, the fact is, it's really getting hot and dirty on Earth: 2018 is shaping up to be one of the planet's hottest years in recorded history, and the pollution is causing massive, devastating tragedies. It's up to our generation to protect and sustain the environment, to let the Earth cool down.


Environmental issues aren't overlooked by contemporary artists, who seek to put the environmental deterioration into spotlight through various practices and movements. From rubbish under our feet to wildfire sweeping through the continents – here are some artworks of the contemporary artists shedding light on the relationship between the nature and the humankind, which has been going out of balance for years.


"Last Island" by Onur Dinc


Based in Solothurn, Switzerland, though with Turkish roots, Onur Dinc is part of the photorealist scene, working as an independent painter and muralist. One of his environmental art pieces – "Last Island", a mural created in Napier, New Zealand, for the Oceans Festival organised by "PangeaSeed" foundation, which aims to spread awareness about global ocean environmental issues, and curated by "Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans", an art project that brings the oceans into the streets around the world.


The artwork highlights the iconic polar bear, a poster child of climate change, and the rapidly spreading issue of global warming, heavily affected by fossil fuels. The world's largest land predator is classified as a vulnerable species due to the ongoing loss of sea ice.

Limited addition prints of "Last Island" by Onur Dinc depict the devastating consequences of irresponsible use of fossil fuels.

"Summer and winter are inching closer, the four seasons melting together. Due to climate warming, to which we are undoubtedly contributing, polar icecaps and glaciers are shrinking. The Arctic is bound to set yet another summer melt record this year. An iceberg shouldn't have to drift past a North Sea beach for us to realise just how close our relationship to the Arctic and Antarctic is. My artwork depicts the post-apocalyptic scenario of the last iceberg," said the artist when created the mural in 2017.


A limited number of "Last Island" prints is available for purchase here.


"5,000 Lost Soles" by Liina Klauss


A few months ago an award-winning art activist Liina Klauss from Germany created a large-scale installation constructed from over 5,000 plastic flip-flops, all picked up along the shores of Bali’s west coast. The aim was to raise awareness of ocean plastic waste, which cause immense ecological harm.

"5,000 Lost Soles" – only a tiny bit of flip-flops out of millions of pairs of the synthetic shoes that wash ashore around the globe every year.

“I want to show people a different perspective on what we consider rubbish, – says the artist. – Everything we throw away comes back to us (via the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil we grow crops and raise animals on). Flip-flops are just one example; there is potential within all these materials we waste and consider worthless."


The rainbow-hued sculpture, installed in Bali, takes the form of an ocean wave, with a frame being created from sustainably harvested bamboo, while a thread made from melted-down plastic bottle caps was used to attach the sandals.

Why would flip-flops evoke discussion about environmental responsibilities? “Flip-flops are worn directly on the body and for a long period of time. It is crucial to my art that people make a direct connection between marine pollution and their own daily lives. After all, it is not "the others", it is every single one of us who is causing the global plastic pollution,” says the artist.


"Midway" by Chris Jordan


Seattle-based environmental artist, former lawyer, Chris Jordan explores contemporary consumerist culture from multiple perspectives and exposes consumers' irresponsibility towards the environment through depiction of rubbish. Edge-walking the lines between beauty and horror, abstraction and representation, the near and the far, the visible and the invisible, his works challenge us to look both inward and outward at the complex landscapes of our collective choices.


"The Midway" project started during C. Jordan and his team's trips to Midway Island, where they witnessed the environmental tragedy. The team photographed and filmed thousands of young albatrosses that had laid dead on the ground, their stomachs filled with plastic.


"The experience was devastating, not only for what it meant for the suffering of the birds, but also for what it reflected back to us about the destructive power of our culture of mass consumption, and humanity's damaged relationship with the living world," says the artist.

"Midway" by Chris Jordan depicts an autopsied body of albatross on Midway Island, overflowing with scraps of plastic they pick up from the Pacific Ocean.

The project has taught the team not only about the tragedy of the consumerist culture, but also about the cycles of birth and life of these stunning birds. "My time with these magnificent beings was an internal experience as much as an external one, infused with often-overwhelming levels of beauty, lyricism, mystery, reverence, grief, and joy. And both the birds and the island resonated with richly poetic layers of symbolism, archetype, metaphor, and spirit", says the artist.


A few hundred hours of footage and several years of study were turned into a non-commercial film called "Albatross" (2017), which is available to watch for free here. And in the reciprocal spirit of the gift economy, C. Jordan invites everyone to contribute financially to the project here.


"Suppression" by Patrick Ryan


One doesn't need to die to go to hell as becoming a wildland firefighter is already pretty close to it. Cape Town-based South African photographer and firefighter Patrick Ryan is led by a sense of adventure, a desire to create emotional impact and a mission to influence human behavioural change towards the environment.

"Suppression" by Patrick Ryan exposes the hellish conditions of survival on Earth.

In 2015 he was involved as a firefighter and photographer in a large fire caused by a deliberate and malicious fire-setting. The disaster drew great public attention due to its proximity and threat to the suburbs of Cape Town.


"Part of my "Wildfire" series captured during my career as a wildland firefighter on a wildfire ground crew. My hope was to bring the incredible experiences we face out there on the fireline, and that are rarely possible for members of the public to witness, to the view of all," says the artist.


A limited edition of photographs is available for purchase here.


Jeff Hong's Project "Unhappily Ever After"


Where in the modern world would "Walt Disney" characters end up these days? New York-based animation artist Jeff Hong doesn't foresee a happy ending to such beloved cartoon characters as Cinderella, Bambi, Ariel, Elsa and others.

Elsa's unhappy ending on the melting ice pictured in Jeff Hong's series "Unhappily Ever After"

Poor creatures would have to face the deterioration of the environmental conditions that many people still consider a hoax or at least irrelevant to the lives they lead. J. Hong's project "Unhappily Ever After" explores ecological and social issues that require critical decisions to be made in order to ensure sustainable world not only for the disappearing ecosystems, but also for the future of the next generation of "Disney" fans.

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© 2018 by Živilė Kasparavičiūtė