When scientists, activists and journalists talk about climate change, they tend to use alarming numbers, large statistics and scary graphs. But around the world, some artists are working to translate intimidating facts and figures into something understandable on a human scale. Whether it’s via theater, fashion or street art, these artists challenge how we look at our world’s future and our role in it.
Saving Coral Reefs
Jason deCaires Taylor’s underwater sculptures support the conservation and growth of coral reefs around the world. DeCaires Taylor, a marine conservationist, sculptor and scuba diver, has planted his work in places like the Maldives, Florida, Grenada and the Bahamas.
Many of his sculptures are shaped like humans — an intentional visual connection between people and marine life. The sculptures are made from a nontoxic pH-neutral concrete, with rough textures that encourage coral to grow. The sculptures start as stone but within just a few years, the work comes to life. Coral flourishes, fish find homes and crustaceans settle into the statues, sustaining life in areas where the reefs are vanishing.
Written by Anaïs Mitchell and directed by Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown brings an unlikely subject to a large stage.
The latest Broadway hit is rooted in climate change mayhem. It’s a 21st-century spin on two classic Greek myths, where Hades, Persphone, Orpheaus and Eurydice all head to the underworld and back.
“Strange things happen in the world these days,” Eurydice sings in her opening lines. “Fall comes early. Spring comes late. One day summer comes, the next she goes, any way the wind blows.”
Before It’s Too Late
Climate change is expected to hit Miami especially hard.
Before It’s Too Late is a Miami-based initiative that sits at the intersection of art, technology and science. One of its projects, Miami Murals, uses augmented reality to transform Miami street murals. Hold your phone up, and the mural comes to life. Ocean waves slowly fill the screen and a yellow canary warns you about upcoming environmental threats. The user has two choices: They can look at our projected bleak future or pick “Be the Change,” which illustrates a healthy future, complete with wind turbines and smiling manatees.
The project started when Before It’s Too Late founder and CEO Linda Cheung noted a divide between scientists and citizens. Her murals are a place where those populations can connect and ignite social change through empathy.
Unfortunately, Ready to Wear
During February’s Fashion Week, Milk Gallery in New York hosted a new line of clothing called, Unfortunately, Ready to Wear. Created by Luka Sabbat as a collaboration between the Natural Resources Defense Council and Milk Studios, the conceptual line was designed as clothing for a future impacted by climate change. The collection is complete with fireproof jackets, storm-warning headphones and a backpack that transforms into a sleeping bag.
“We’re going at this from a different angle than I think most environmental organizations have ever done,” Rhea Suh, president of NRDC, told Fast Company. “Honestly, I think we need to be a lot more creative about how we reach out to new audiences.”
Sean “Hula” Yoro
Street artists around the world are using art to raise awareness of climate change, but Sean “Hula” Yoro incorporates an element of nature into each of his works. His more famous murals involve tidal waves: Yoro sits on a surfboard and paints as the tides rise and fall. Yoro also paints on natural surfaces, like glaciers and trees, where the art quickly weathers away. Each piece is intended to spark a sense of urgency.
“It is important now more than ever to try to circulate positive environmental messages through art in order to combat the recent oppression of climate change research,” he told CNN. “I worry that we have taken for granted our natural world and if we wait any longer the negative effects will be irreversible.”
It’s hard to understand how rising water levels will directly impact a city simply by looking at a map. When you can physically stand in a place that will someday be underwater, it becomes a lot more realistic.
HighWaterLine is an attempt to do just that. Artist Eve Mosher, with the help of a line marker (the machines used to paint football fields), walks across cities, in her wake a blue line marking each city’s flood zone.
“I realized that while I didn’t have the skills to be a lobbyist, lawyer, or politician, I didn’t have the money to make huge investments or sway opinion, but what I did have was creativity and my art,” she writes on her website.
Mosher started the project in 2007 in New York City. Since then, HighWaterLines can be found in Philadelphia, Miami, Delray Beach and Bristol.
Jill Pelto’s art draws from her scientific research around the world. Whether it’s studying mountain glaciers in British Columbia or the Transantarctic Mountains of Antarctica, the destinations paired with climate data inspire her art.
“I make and read a lot of graphs, yet I forgot that many people do not,” Pelto told Vice. “Using actual information … provided an intellectual context to my work while my illustrations around the graphs created an emotional story that can inspire people to promote environmental justice.”
In 2017, Italian artist Lorenzo Quinn installed a pair of giant hands in Venice’s Great Canal. The hands appeared to “support” a building that dates to the 14th century. The installation, entitled Support, was part of the 2017 Venice Biennale, and it represented the threat climate change poses to the city and the power humans have to stop it.
Venice is highly vulnerable to climate change and sea-level rise. It frequently experiences “acqua alta,” or high waters, where the city floods up to 60 times each year.
Quinn’s hands, which were based on the shape of his children’s hands, symbolize unification and the work we have to do to support future generations. “At once, the sculpture has both a noble air as well as an alarming one … the hands symbolize tools that can both destroy the world, but also have the capacity to save it,” Quinn writes on his website.