As we consider all the ways we can make a difference in the world, we are inspired by artists who create riveting, thought-provoking work about social and environmental justice.
From sculptures made from found materials to choreography that includes a message about environmental responsibility, contemporary artists are finding more ways than ever to respond to humanity’s negative impact on the environment.
A strong visual or auditory reminder is one of the most effective ways to reach an audience. These environmental artists are expressing themselves with incredible pathos. The field is often labeled as “Eco Art,” and includes thinkers and creators as diverse as their subject matter.
In our own events at Pildora, we often include art installations or performances that have a strong sustainability message. At our 2019 Fashionability event, we featured a synchronized swimmer moving through plastic to symbolize the proliferation of plastic waste in our oceans. We also worked with our friend and partner Jermaine Browne to feature a hip-hop dance where the dancers wore clothing created by sustainable designers.
We are thrilled to discover more and more artists working in the sustainability space and want to introduce you to a few of our favorites.
In some art schools, sustainability has become its own concentration, launching emerging young artists with a passion for change. These artists approach their work with a sense of empathy, questioning the possibilities for change, as well as an individual’s responsibility to engage. However, there have been artists working in this field for a long time, and it is richly populated by brilliant creatives from all over the world.
Michael Murphy of Perceptual Art is a well-known artist working in New York, with work featured in publications like Time and displayed in venues such as World Trade Center One. His recent installation, “Change Pays,” features a suspended mobile of international currency with women on each bill. This installation focused on gender equality around the world. Viewed from different positions, this mobile can read “change” or “pays,” reflecting on how meaningful impact makes economic as well as ethical change.
He also has a riveting piece called “Climate Change is Real,” where the word “climate” pivots to read “real.” His emphasis on human perception resonates deeply with the idea that we must change our relationship with the earth and the people around us in order to enact a positive impact.
Eve Mosher works in New York City, focusing on eco-art about waterways and water consumption. Her work occurs in the public spaces of the city, inviting viewers to become participants as well as observers in her projects. She often maps waterways around the city to highlight their importance, as well as the ways that water connects people from different walks of life.
Jeff Hong plays with Disney tropes of idyllic fairytale worlds to contrast them with the stark realities of the modern world. His images feature Mulan, a Chinese warrior and heroine, covered in the ubiquitous face mask seen all around China on adults and children trying to shield themselves from the horrific pollution. One of Hong’s most compelling images features Ariel, the Little Mermaid, washed up on a shore, covered in black oil.
The cleverly named Marina DeBris uses upcycled ocean trash to create her installations. Her clothing is surprisingly beautiful, despite its less-than-glamorous roots; photographs show young people dancing energetically in their “trashion.” Her work feels like a glimpse of a dystopian future where we are left with nothing but our waste to provide inspiration and beauty.
Our bodies feel the impact of our environment in the most direct and primal way, so it isn’t any surprise that concerns around sustainability are important in the world of dance and performing arts as a whole.
One of the most well-known works of ecological art is the Museum of Modern Art’s Rain Room, which first opened in 2013. It is an interactive piece where visitors could move through the room of falling water without ever getting wet. The technology involves a mixture of choreography and human participation, creating a makeshift stage where human interference with nature is at the forefront.
Jody Sperling creates breathlessly beautiful, expressive dance works centered around ecological change. Her recent work, “Wind Rose,” visualizes drastically changing wind patterns that have emerged with global warming. The frantic energy of the piece underlines the urgency of the sustainable mission and creates a memorable visual for changing weather phenomenons.
Few things create more emotional resonance than a song experienced by many people at once. Just look at the overwhelming of impact and community created by Woodstock in the 1960s. These days, composers and musicians are finding inspiration from the environment, roused to action by the issues that threaten our world.
In An Inconvenient Truth, the 2006 documentary about global warming, Melissa Etheridge’s “I Need to Wake Up” spoke about personal responsibility and the power of collective action. The refrain goes, “I need to change / I need to shake up / I need to speak out.” The star used her iconic voice to bring light to social awareness surrounding sustainability and climate change.
In 2015, cellist Daniel Crawford composed a piece called “Planetary Bands, Warming World” that traces rising temperatures around the world with instrumental interpretation. Each instrument represents a different region of the earth, and high notes corresponded to warmer years. Every note of the song represents one year, from 1880 to 2015. You can hear the rising of the music as the piece progresses. His data-centric approach to music composition is both beautiful and undeniable as we hear the feverish pitch of the song rise.
This is just a quick glimpse at some artists in this growing and relevant field. There are so many art forms we haven’t had a chance to touch on or explore. But don’t worry — those are coming in later posts, so stay tuned!