Getting You Thinking: Art as the Key to Environmental Awareness

Introduction

I truly enjoyed our “field trips” during last week’s class, and they impacted me for the rest of the week. Both Maru Garcia and Dr. Pinar Yoldas are using their work as a call to action, striving to ensure humanity does something to improve the state of the world we live in. We all know that continuing on our current path ensures massive extinction, and everyone has a responsibility to motivate themselves and others to take action to change this current course.

Maru Garcia’s “Vacuoles”

Maru’s exhibit was truly amazing, and it seemed like it had layer after layer of meaning (this layering reminded me of the petals of a flower, and I found this very fitting given the piece’s purpose and topic). As we have discussed previously, we often separate ourselves from climate change and the effects humans have had on our environment - in short, this is one of our most common survival mechanisms (“Why We Turn a Blind Eye”). We are able to compartmentalize these larger than life issues that we often feel too small to do anything about; we tell ourselves that these issues are “just” global and not anything that will reach us. But, Maru’s “Vacuoles” explains just how wrong this is. The horrific effects of human activity can be seen in our own backyard, in parts of our very own city.

Maru’s project was somehow both un-shocking and jarring at the same time - I know these things are happening (Los Angeles has such a huge population and the pollution is horrific), yet to hear and see exactly what these living conditions are like for my “neighbors” was rather startling. The importance of this “wake up call” cannot be understated. We are constantly needing to have climate change and the effects of the anthropocene thrown in our faces if we want any change to be made. Every second we are not being made aware of these issues as they relate to us on a daily basis is another instance during which we label it as “not our problem.” Cornell recently created an interesting app for the northeast that allows residents of the region to see how climate change has impacted their area specifically (Friedlander) (Figure 1). Tools like this, as well as art like Maru’s, are slowly making environmental issues more “accessible.”

Figure 1: Cornell Climate Change App from: “CSF Climate Change in Your County.” Climate Smart Farming, http://climatesmartfarming.org/tools/csf-county-climate-change/. Accessed 27 May 2019.


In my opinion, one of the most powerful components of Maru’s piece was the numbering of the vacuoles (Figure 2). As someone who is Jewish, when I saw this detail I could not help but immediately think of the identification numbers tattooed onto concentration camp prisoners during the Holocaust. I doubt Maru had intended for this connection to be made; however, I think the human destruction of the environment (including the many animal species within it) can be labeled as a form of “genocide.” Due to this, the connection does not seem to be totally wanting.

Figure 2: Labeled Vacuole from: Jillien Malott. “Vacuoles,” Honors 177 Meeting, 23 May 2019, Wight Gallery, UCLA. Exhibit walkthrough.

I found it poetic that Maru was showing how what is being destroyed by human activity (“nature” for a lack of a better word) is our salvation. Flowers like mustard and sunflowers can act as natural remediators for the lead pollution found in Maru’s project locations. Yet, other “natural” remediators can also help issues beyond pollution: natural floodplains, wetlands restoration, and forest preservation are but a few of Earth’s solutions to our growing “human problem” (Blumberg).

Dr. Pinar Yoldas’ “Causality is Broken: Can We Fix It with Art and Design?”

I was not entirely sure what I was about to experience when I saw Dr. Yoldas’ presentation title, but I was excited to find out… and, Dr. Yoldas did not disappoint. She is clearly a very engaging speaker, but, even more so, her work demands attention.

There are so many things I can write about regarding this presentation, but what stuck with me the most was Dr. Yoldas’ explanation of no longer “babying” her audience; in her words, “they must grow up and be adults.” During the Q and A, she discussed that in just a few short years her work had evolved from being extremely attentive towards audience emotions into work that forces the audience to face what they have been hiding from. As previously discussed, I think this is crucial to us making change. We live in a “out of sight, out of mind” world and culture (Yoldas; “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”). We need to make people see these environmental issues. And, Dr. Yoldas most certainly does this with her work - she combines the uncomfortable and horrific with the beautiful and unique. I was really taken aback by her “Ecosystem of Excess” in which she showcased how creatures might evolve in order to survive in a truly plastic world. What was so eye catching about this project was how it makes scientific “sense” (or, rather, makes sense science-fictionally). She does what I believe art is meant to do: stretch the imagination in an attempt to understand the mundane.

Figure 3: Soda Feathers from: “Ecosystem of Excess.” Pinar Yoldas, https://pinaryoldas.info/WORK/Ecosystem-of-Excess-2014. Accessed 28 May 2019.

I was so enthralled by Dr. Yoldas’ work, I went searching for more of it (she kept referencing all her other projects throughout her presentation). After taking a whirlwind tour of her truly intriguing and eclectic Instagram, I stumbled upon her website. Lo and behold, I found another (semi-recent) project of hers that centers one of our favorite topics: CRISPR! Dr. Yoldas’ “Designer Babies” is clearly probing the ethics of CRISPR and gene manipulation. She discusses using the project to analyze culturally “desirable” traits and what the “Genetically Modified Generation” might look like (Ravenscroft). Despite all my digging for last week’s blog, I am shocked that I did not find this when looking into CRISPR-related art!

Figure 4: Designer Baby from: “Designer Babies.” Pinar Yoldas, https://pinaryoldas.info/Designer-Babies-2013. Accessed 28 May 2019.

Conclusion

I left both events feeling a bit deflated, wondering how I am going to make a difference in this world when I am not a design student (Dr. Yoldas specifically kept saying that design students have the power to make a change). This class has made me realize that I am not entirely sure how to make a difference with my anthropology background. However, despite these feelings of uncertainty, this class has also motivated me to be creative and discover what role I will be playing in saving our planet!



Works Cited

Blumberg, Louis. “Can Nature Save Us From Climate Change?” Huffington Post, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/can-nature-save-us-from-c_b_3728464. Accessed 28 April 2019.

“CSF Climate Change in Your County.” Climate Safe Farming, http://climatesmartfarming.org/tools/csf-county-climate-change/. Accessed 28 April 2019.

Friedlander, Blaine. “New Online Tools Shows Climate Change in Your Backyard.” Cornell Chronicle, http://news.cornell.edu/stories/2018/10/new-online-tool-shows-climate-change-your-backyard. Accessed 28 May 2019.

Garcia, Mura. “Vacuoles,” Honors 177 Meeting, 23 May 2019, Wight Gallery, UCLA. Exhibit walkthrough.

“Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Why We Don’t Care About Climate Change.” 1MillionWomen, https://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/out-sight-out-mind-why-we-dont-care-about-climate-change/. Accessed 28 May 2019.

Ravenscroft, Tom. “Pinar Yoldas Creates Designer Babies Based on Characteristics of Greek Gods and Goddesses.” Dezeen, https://www.dezeen.com/2018/09/28/designer-babies-genetically-modified-istanbul-design-biennial-pinar-yoldas/. Accessed 28 May 2019.

“When We Turn a Blind Eye to Climate Justice and ‘Distant Strangers.’” Trinity College of Dublin: News and Events, https://www.tcd.ie/news_events/articles/why-we-turn-a-blind-eye-to-climate-justice-and-distant-strangers/. Accessed 28 May 2019.

Yoldas, Pinar. “Causality is Broken: Can We Fix It with Art and Design?” University of California, Los Angeles. Presentation.