The boreal forest stretches across the northern globe like a collar or, given the role that it and other forests play, perhaps more like a belt. Forests produce much of the oxygen we breath and build into their wood vast amounts of carbon dioxide. Canada’s boreal forest alone holds 300 billion tons of carbon in its soil, trees, and wetlands—the equivalent of 36 years of global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels. Russia’s boreal, or the “taiga,” may contain twice that amount.
And yet the boreal forest is fading. Driven by habitat destruction and climate disruption, the world’s natural places are under mores stress than ever. This year the climate crisis’ drumbeat of challenges continued to rise. Vast forest fires in Siberia, intense hurricanes sweeping across the Atlantic, waves of drought and floods in the United States, and deadly heatwaves in India and Europe all characterized the last year.
But another kind of rising also happened. This year we’ve seen people speaking out about the climate crisis like never before. Here in the US, we’re gearing up for the Youth Climate Strike on Sept. 20th. Led by a diverse coalition of youth and adult-led organizations, September 20th will be an inter-generational day of striking that will launch an entire week of climate action and rallies in dozens of countries across the world. NRDC is supporting the strikes as an official partner, and we are standing in solidarity with the courageous young people leading this effort.
These strikes will correspond to “climate week,” capped by the United Nation’s Climate Summit taking place in New York City on September 23rd, where leaders from around the world will gather together and work to accelerate progress towards implementing the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
In addition to participating in these important climate events, NRDC will also draw more attention to and mobilize action on climate change through an innovative art partnership with Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art.
NRDC is joining forces with the Museum to present selections from the ground-breaking exhibit The Coming World: Ecology as the New Politics 2030–2100 at EXPO CHICAGO, the International Exposition of Contemporary & Modern Art. EXPO Chicago takes place at Navy Pier’s Festival Hall September 19–22. This partnership will mark the first time the renowned Russian museum exhibits in the United States and will feature thought-provoking works by four internationally acclaimed artists: Kim Abeles, Dan Perjovschi, Alexander Obrazumov, and Denis Sinyakov.
The work of these artists each reflects the climate and ecological crisis facing the world today, helping to galvanize action by challenging us to see our effect on the world around us in a new way.
Romanian artist Dan Perjovschi’s drawings, featured in The Coming World in mural form and in limited-edition take-away posters, is comprised of slogans that fade into warnings, highlighting a planet that is, itself, fading before our eyes.
Russian artist Alexander Obrazumov’s installation, by contrast, features illogical pairings of objects found in a contemporary office, such as upside-down lamps filled with artificial grass and superfoods in liquid soap dispensers. They highlight the fetish of personal action and “healthy lifestyles,” which are so often the focus of the ecologically conscious. Even at their best, however, they are no substitute for political action, and at their worst, they are a mere distraction, as my colleague Mary Heglar, has so deftly pointed out.
Los Angeles based artist, Kim Abeles takes both a literal and metaphorical approach in Smog Collectors, creating images using the particulate matter from the smog of Moscow and Los Angeles for her work. For The Coming World, Kim created a new series of porcelain smog portraits of ten present-day political leaders and their quotes on environmental issues. Those particulates are not too different from the smoke produced by the forest fires consuming Siberia and California and are both a symbol and a material product of our fossil fuel age.
Finally, Moscow-based photojournalist and artist Denis Sinyakov will show The Landscape with Birches, an enormous image created in fall 2018 in Buryatia, which sits within the southern reach of the taiga. The image is beautiful and haunting, as one quickly realizes that each verdant tree is scarred by fire but without any understanding as to why. Was it a natural fire or another sign of human folly?
As part of EXPO CHICAGO, I’m also thrilled to be participating in a panel discussion as part of the EXPO CHICAGO /Dialogues program on Saturday, September 21 at 12 pm. I’ll be joined by Garage curator Ekaterina Lazareva and artist Kim Abeles to discuss the climate crisis and how art is being used as a tool to spark dialogue, inspire collective action and drive awareness of climate issues.