We all have voices, but few voices can make as much of an impact as a really good image. That worth a thousand words phrase is not said for nothing, after all. The great unifier of the art world is that all art is expression in one way or another and that means that it is all an extension of the artist’s voice. Every artist is trying to say something in their work; and in fact, I would say that without something to say (and remember, specifically saying nothing can certainly be saying something) that an image cannot be called art. The impact of an artist’s voice is something that certainly can be honed in, and a larger audience can also assure more eyes and ears are receptive to your message, but a skillful image makes waves no matter the size of your audience.
This week’s post is about the intersection between art and activism; the place where an artist is not just making art for aesthetic purposes, but to raise awareness. That intersection is called Artivism. This week features six artists who are using their skill as activists; each artists mentioned this week are raising awareness about issues that are important to them, issues like conservation, preservation, destruction, and more.
This week’s first artist is photographer Edward Burtynsky. Burtynsky is an accomplished Canadian photographer who has prolifically documented industrial landscapes all over the world to document man’s effect on nature. Through many projects, Burtynsky has shown us a new type of landscape: a landscape created by our modern world of industrialization. We are used to seeing beautiful images of the world we live in, like those in the F/G post, Horizons, but Burtynsky reveals to us that not all is beautiful, and that we do not enjoy our modern lives without the destruction of our natural landscapes.
In one series, titled Water, Burtynsky explores the relationship that man has with the eponymous liquid—how far we have gone to change our world to get the water we desire and need and how we can create our own destruction through our carelessness. His goal is to stimulate thinking and encourage people to see water not only has something that comes from the tap or in a bottle, but as a precious resource that humanity needs for survival. As far as photography goes, documentary photography is, to me, some of the most interesting. Burtynsky’s eye for compelling imagery is once again in full use for Water and the vastly contrasting scenarios that we can see within this project are a testament to the lengths that we will go to obtain water, for better or worse.
Rice Terraces #2
Kumbh Mela #1
Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation / Scottsdale
Pivot Irrigation / Suburb
The next artist is sculptor Courtney Mattison. Mattison is concerned with the state of the world’s oceans and her art focuses on presenting both the beauty and fragility of our oceans in an effort encourage those who can to conserve and protect these habitats that desperately need our help. Mattison’s large format sculptures are arresting to behold on-screen, and I am sure that they are quite attention-getting in person as well. Below I am showing images from two projects, called Our Changing Seas III and Our Changing Seas II. They illustrate not only the intricacy and diversity of coral types, but more importantly the degradation and slow death that real coral is undergoing right now in our oceans. In her own words, “Corals are so sensitive that the slightest change to the temperature or chemistry of the seawater that surrounds them can cause total devastation through coral bleaching, death and reef erosion. Without our help to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and over-fishing, scientists agree that reefs may cease to function as ecological cradles for marine life by the end of this century. Are coral reefs doomed to fade into oblivion or will we allow them to recover and regain their vibrancy?”
Each sculpture is hand-crafted and slowly built up—like a coral in real life. The time-consuming, slowly-built, and fragile nature of these sculptures reflect the realities of coral in our oceans, but these corals are not in danger, real coral is. Check out the images and learn what you can do to help.
Our Changing Seas III
Detail of Our Changing Seas III
Detail of Our Changing Seas III
Detail of Our Changing Seas III
Our Changing Seas II
Detail of Our Changing Seas II
Detail of Our Changing Seas II
Next up is a duo of French photographers, Yves Merchand and Romain Meffre. Mentioned briefly in Abandoned, Merchand and Meffre photograph deteriorating structures in an effort to preserve them for the future. So far, the pair have preserved places like abandoned or repurposed theaters or the deterioration of Detroit. The pair have a great eye for composing images that capture the lost glory of these locations; the tragedy is evident in every picture. While places like Detroit have been slowly abandoned, the island of Gunkanjima was vacated over the course of a few months, but regardless both photographers have presented us with a portfolio that is in tune with the history attached to each subject. Each image is impactful because of the loss implicit in each scenario. Failure is a subject that resonates with us no matter who we are because it is universal. Every picture in Marchand and Meffre’s portfolio is not just historical in nature, they are records of ruin, of decline, and ultimately, failure itself.
Palíndromo Mészáros is our next artist; his speciality is documentary photography and in the project I am sharing with you today he is focusing on the aftermath of a toxic spill in Hungary in October of 2010. The project, titled The Line is named after the stain left by the spill as it flooded nearby towns and caused countless dollars in property damage and loss of infrastructure and life. Mészáros begins his photographic journey long after it has fallen off of our collective radars—only six months after the disaster. While we may have forgotten about it (until he brought it to our attention again) the locals certainly have not and the line is there as an indelible mark, a reminder, a scar on the land. Fields have been poisoned, people killed, and life will never be the same for a long time.
Poignant images of the aftermath of this catastrophe emphasize the effects of the spill. The spill was largely cleaned up within a year of the disaster, but at great cost. Great swaths of land where the spill destroyed houses had to demolished and now there is nothing but fields. Mészáros’ project also highlights our collective ability to forget. Something like this disaster should not be forgotten, but they regularly are. The reality of the situation is that sometimes we need voices like Mészáros and the other artists this week to remind us that our planet is fragile and that we need remember that we are responsible for it.
View more of Mészáros’ work at his website here.
Rachel Sussman is the last artist this week and her concern is nothing new; in fact, that is the very point of her work. Sussman has spent years cataloguing the oldest living things on this planet in her project aptly titled, The Oldest Living Things In The World in an effort to raise enough awareness through education to preserve them. Nothing if not extremely humbled by the sheer amount of history that has been observed by these organisms, Sussman has gained access to these organisms to—at the very least, digitally—maintain these treasures for the future. The artist herself even muses, “This vast timescale is held in tension with the shallow time inherent to photography. What does it mean to capture a multi-millennial lifespan in 1/60th of a second? Or for that matter, to be an organism in my 30s bearing witness to organisms that precede human history and will hopefully survive us well into future generations?”
Sussman’s project is ambitious, unique and never-before attempted. These organisms were old before Detroit started to deteriorate, before we altered the world’s waterways, before the desecration of our coral reefs; they are more fragile than crumbling buildings, more fragile than the now-vacant fields of Ajka, Hungary, and more fragile than the delicate ecosystems that are being turned into commodities at the expense of the planet. The picture of Pando, a few pictures down (the Aspen trees in the picture before the last one) is a snapshot of a life-form that is 80,000 years old; eighty-thousand years ago was back in the Pleistocene epoch. If you need some help conceptualizing that, check out this website, by Whitevinyl, an artist previously mentioned on this blog. TOLTITW is such a huge undertaking and, among this week’s projects my biggest inspiration. Sussman started out having to gain access and prove her intentions and it has grown into something that has never been done before and making waves. As an artist myself, her success inspires me to continue with my own projects, use my voice, and work hard to achieve my goals.
Thanks for reading! Consider that the issues that these artists have taken stances on are very real and require our attention. Check out each artist’s website to find out how to help. Thanks for reading Filter/Gauge and remember to Like or Follow F/G elsewhere on the web!