How Should Art Reckon with Climate Change

By Zoë Lescaze

1/9 – 2006, very recent popularization of climate change as an issue. Impact of Al Gore film on popularization of climate change? I remember watching as kid in school, marked by the drama of the storytelling. Wasn’t he in front of an audience (~live action, they react? Maybe my own memory reaction).

1/9 – rise of climate ‘conscious’ art production, maybe due to extreme politics maybe extreme weather. Climate ‘conscious’ vs. climate ‘addressing’? Connotations of the more active latter term?

1/9 – Stephanie Smith concerned that imbibing art productions with surface level ethical value, i.e. climate ‘conscious’ makes it easy for us to say that the issue is being addressed. Re. holocaust monument/anti-monument. Climate conscious art productions can take the place/act as a stand-in for our own consciousnesses, making it easy to forget the necessity of seeking meaningful change. The art productions stand in place of meaningful change, while enacting none of it. 

2/9 – “alarmist works that function as little more than propaganda.” Value of changing ideology re. propaganda? Does it work, does it invest in later change. Maybe no. 

2/9 – Library of Water, Roni Horn. Collecting artifacts, the stuff, and bringing it into the exhibition space. Medium is the message etc. Her non-climate addressing intentionality. Glacier graveyard. Or opposite cryo-storage (whatever it’s called), thawing glaciers in contained environments in order to one day freeze them again, instead of freezing people to one day thaw and give them new life in the science fiction future.

2/9 – ‘the resulting works are not demands for immediate action but ones that expand our psychological capacity to act.” Right, investing in future action through foregrounding what is going on. Does Lescaze then believe in these tactics? As she says, the scale has changed compared to the AIDS crisis. The forces at work are even less visible, take place over time-scales larger than our regular imaginative abilities… what works can invoke this time scale? Thing to look for. Think nuclear storage and communicating radiation danger into deep future.

4/9 – Falls of the Kaaterskill. Painting, ‘untouched beauty’ etc. made timeless by the addition of indigenous figure. Painter subtracted the tourist viewing platform. Commodification of lands into views. Tourist views made to be out of time. But they are manufactured.

5/9 – emergence of art addressing pollution and development, 2nd half 20th century.

5/9 – Liminal Lacrimosa, Mary Mattingly. Expression of glacial (in the sense of actually relating particularly to glaciers instead of broadly expressing very large slow moving time scale) in concrete forms through drips and tear catching urns of Rome (why Rome?). What does it mean to be glacial? 

5/9 – regionalization of climate change belief. Climate change as existing in public knowledge or belief based on politics, convenience to existing lifestyle and identity formed/entangled with that lifestyle (maybe not lifestyle, maybe economy. Lifestyle is a recent invention).

5/9 – “collaboration between strangers” as necessary to effectively combat climate change.

5/9 – artists seeking ways to reduce climate impact. Shipping via sea instead of air. Action fostered through shame?

6/9 – impossible contraction, irreconcilable difference between art world and climate action because of the extreme overindulgence of high art collectors and consumers. True, but they’re thankfully not the whole picture. 

6/9 – art fairs as comically over-consumptive. A parody of the works they present? 

6/9 – wait a minute. We’re talking about galleries and collectors here when we talk about shipping. This has nothing to do with the work being made. New Yorker might take for granted the high art market and collectors as the de-facto art world but I do not. Talking about art and talking about collectors are two different things. 

7/9 – have a good look at Robert Adams’ “New West” photo series, 1974.

7/9 – ok ok, museums and their corporate sponsors.

7/9 – individual billionaire sponsors, their immoral actions, and their positions on boards and trusts of museums and galleries. They are apparently actively contributing to taste-making in the arts sector. People watch what these institutions put out. 

8/9 – Lescaze calls for greater outrage towards the sponsors and board members whose corporations are actively contributing to the climate crisis. Agreed. The list she expounds is terrible. But, does this have specifically to do with the creation of works at our level on the Canadian side? To what extent are we able to make work freely while relatively outside of the direct sponsorship of these people? I’m not sure. The internet definitely spreads the influencing power of these institutions. 

9/9 – John Cage slowest possible organ work. Expressing long time scale, forcing us to relate to those a long way down the road from us. Placing a possible future out of a doubt of future at all. An expression of belief that there will be a future, or a challenge to make sure that there is one? A reason added to make sure there is one?

9/9 – for the museum guy, it (the organ) forces a notion of hope, imposes a notion of hope.


The function of artworks to create public consciousness, or to take the place of public consciousness around climate issues. AND, one possible route to expressing climate crisis, i.e. expressions of climate change time-scale that impart a notion of responsibility towards the future.

Though the article jumps between the production of artworks, their expressive and consciousness making capacities, and the world of collectors (seemingly to rightfully point out the terrible people and their corporations that still hold too much sway over boards of galleries and museums), the main function of the article is to map out one possible route of making meaningful additions through artwork to addressing the climate crisis. 

While simplistic works that mirror the crisis by representing forest fires and floods can easily and only replace meaningful reflection on the crisis (in the way of some monuments to things that we would rather not think about), works that express a timescale and necessary cooperation with future unborn generations may actually create a climate-conscious responsibility in the viewer/caretaker. John Cage’s “Organ/ASLSP,” while not specifically presenting the climate crisis or what it looks like, is a work that can only be realized through collaboration with future generations because of its time scale. Maintenance and chord changes of the organ must be undertaken by people of the future. Therefore there must be a future, and therefore we in the present must reflect on how our input influences the possibility or impossibility of that future, whether it will be there at all. Forced collaboration with the future is one way of activating a present caretaking of the conditions that will make that future possible.


Dowsing for Remediation with Alana Bartol

By Valérie Frappier

1/3 – Alana asks how we as white settler relate to the land. Especially in ways that are reciprocal. What does she mean by this, reciprocal in the sense that we relate to the land the land relates to us? I.e. how the land changes us and we change the land? Her and I are looking for the same thing insofar as looking for ways in which we relate to the land. I am looking for images and texts which manifest the ways/roots we did not realize held such deep sway in creating our fundamentally extractive relation to the land. Is Alana seeking actual artierlative methods of relating to the land, i.e. non extractive ones?

1/3 – for her dowsing is a reciprocal (as it we both benefit?) act with the land, undoes ways of owning land, the classically western thought projected onto land. LIDAR and magnetic surveys are doing to, rather with working with the land. Especially western ways of acting upon land through cataloging those things we want to take out. 

1/3 – “digging beyond the narrative of compulsory extraction”

1/3 – Alana is jarred by Crowsnest pass interpretive centers as they put on display an untricial attitude towards the content which they describe. This one of the worst mining disasters in Canadian history is presented without mentioning that the mine collapse is most likely due to the creeping of tunnels too close to the surface of the mountain slope. 

1/3 – “what coal mining has meant for the land, water, and more than human species of this ecosystem while considering how this extractive legacy haunts our present.” How does it haunt our human present? I would challenge Bartol to remember the human practitioners of coal mining and other extractive processes—what happens to them? Should this even be a question in the face of the severity of the climate crisis? I might say yes.

1/3 – dowsing as a method of prospecting for coal?

1/3 – “an appropropriate muse” found in Martine de Bertereau (Baroness de Beausoleil) because she is both a pioneering woman (pioneer feminist, feminist pioneer), while also a pioneer of mining. This is appropriate because Bartol has profited from the same capitalism that has been born out of extraction. Contradictions between the feminist and the prospector. Good and evil? The settler (pioneer) and capitalist go hand in hand (a place to challenge her perspective here?).

2/3 – Bartol selects the witch, through de Bertereau (because of her imprisonment for witchcraft), as an embodiment of both capitalism and our ability to find a connection with the earth. A double pronged symbol/muse. “How we fall prey to system of power (the “bad witch”), yet how we also have the ability to heal by rebuilding our connection to the natural world (the “good witch”).

2/3 – “the paradox of our present, clutching to exploitative processes we know have killed and contaminated us.”

2/3 – Bartol collects core samples and rocks from these places. I actually had coal from crowsnest also. How to we as artists use these materials in our work to call to attention the imperative of change away from extractive processes? How do we collect these objects when the impulse to collect and museum-ify objects is a specifically colonial one? Do we create a reciprocal relationship to land when we collect the refuse of extraction to communicate the depth and pervasiveness of our extractive mindset at work, so that we might change it? 

2/3 – review Grassy Mountain Coal project. Was it approved? I believe not. Or still in talks? Could we say that Bartol’s works had any sway over the decisions of local townspeople in Crowsnest? That’s a whole other question. The extent to which post-extractive works are made available to those who live at points and sites of extraction. For whom are these works made? Who actually gets to see them? In what discourse do they actually get taken up? (Think of the satellite images of the tar sands that are purchased and hung in oil exec. offices.)

2/3 – open pit coal mining in the Rockies, the removal of 1976 legislation that banned mining on the eastern slopes of the Rockies (the most visible slopes), and this article failing to mention that very particular fact about that ordinance (the view, the tourist view). Bartol’s exhibition was at the University of Lethbridge–where is this exactly? Also the linking from the exhibition to the webpages of activist, indigenous and community groups, their significant role in the fight.

2/3 – Grassy Mountain was eventually disapproved, the 1976 legislation was put back in place. But that doesn’t mean coal mining doesn’t happen, it’s just kept invisible.

2/3 – inviting visitors to the museum to take packets of native plant seeds to spread over the grassy mountain site. But also remediation being facilitated by non-native plants, i.e. mullein that can actually take heavy metals out of the ground (what happens then when the plant dies? They go straight back into the earth?) Does this point to another layer of irony, we the settlers, the mullein remove the contaminants in the name of remediation, but does it do anything? Can we accomplish anything through our acts of remediation while we thrive on the refuse of extraction—or is the land back (back to native plants) ultimately the better route (land back).

Artworks to look at: orphan well adoption agency—the roles of satire and fiction. The witches hands alongside collected objects/artifacts. 

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