I’m Fine, You're Fine by On the Rise Artist Collective
2231 Granville Street, Vancouver, BC
Thursday, April 23 through Sunday, April 26, 2009
“Humanity is sitting on a ticking time bomb. If the vast majority of the world’s scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced”
In the wake of Al Gore’s defeat in the 2006 elections, it would have been understandable had the former US Vice President quietly left the public sphere. Instead, Gore focused his energies on the calamity of a changing climate, a shift that would serve as the driving force behind his internationally thought-provoking documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.
Prior to the film’s release, climate change and its impending doom was no stranger to the masses, but responses to Gore’s film were dramatic and prompt; the tone of his message propelled the issue of climate change into every publication, company, program and marketing scheme that would welcome it with open arms. New environmental organizations were formed, and there was re-instituted, widespread concern for a situation finally receiving the action its severity merited.
Then, almost as quickly as the climate craze had arrived, it disappeared; a proliferation of engagement devolved into minimal engagement. At a time when the planet required its human inhabitants to stay atop climate change, we allowed our culturally short attention spans to succumb to boredom. Climate change had run its course, Gore had finished touring his documentary and the critics stepped on stage. Some scientists went so far as to release reports that questioned the validity of global warming as a whole, explaining it was contrived of by the media, in order to maintain public attention (or lack thereof.) Despite melting icebergs, continued obliteration of forests and abnormally fluctuating temperatures, the global attention span had fatigued; we’d given the climate crisis enough of our attention and turned away to welcome the next cause.
Enter I’m Fine, You’re Fine. A metaphorical splash of cold water to the face, this exhibition of fifteen artists whips us back around to climate change and inquires: when did we become so complacent?
A year prior to the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Emily Vey Duke, half of collaborative artistic force Duke & Battersby, penned an article titled Suffering, Empathy, Art, and the Greater Good. Published in C Magazine in the spring of 2005, Vey Duke’s article was a call to attention in which she questioned the role of the artist as an instrumental player in confronting social change and proposing a the re-evaluation of moral systems.
“I feel that the artist has a responsibility to reduce suffering in an abstract, global sense which encompasses all the citizens of the earth,” explains Vey Duke. “This responsibility can be fulfilled only through a kind of ripple-like effect: we worry, we make work that reflects that worry, the work flows outward and some humanizing impact is felt”
Ripple after ripple emanates from I’m Fine, You’re Fine, reminding us of art’s responsibility to reflect the worry and attention that Vey Duke speaks of. The actions of Recycling and Riding Our Bikes (Pawlak), are challenged when paired with an upsurge in the use of travel mugs and environmentally-friendly lightbulbs. Is this really is enough?
Fifteen artists work to answer this inquiry, using a wide range of materials to reflect their respective deliberations. As a result, the audience is given an opportunity to contemplate familiar issues from an entirely new point of view, and through unexpected media: fabric, portraiture, and ceramics, to mention just a few.
Janet’s Wang’s piece, Soft Sculpture, engages our collective familiarity with a popular fabric, Toile de Jouy. Originating in France in the late 1700’s, the material features whimsical imagery and idealistic situations portrayed in intricate pattern work, usually with a single colour. Initially, the relationship between Soft Spectacle and climate change is difficult to grasp, until the viewer peers deeper into the pattern and observes what Wang is attempting to present: an amalgamation of small tragedies, masked by an aesthetically pleasing and familiar pattern. Wang incorporates the fabric into her work as a means to present a number of “modern tragedies,” ranging from the displacement of down town east side (DTES) residents, to an ever-expanding industrial landscape.
Painter Roselina Hung offers us Self Portrait As a Polar Bear, a tongue-in-cheek take on the notion of the aforementioned animal as a “poster child” for climate change. Confronting the viewer with her direct, haunting gaze, Hung is enveloped by the polar bear wrapped around her body and head. As animal consumes human, human simultaneously consumes animal, an equally destructive relationship prevalent in numerous aspects of climate change. The distinction between human body and animal body is blurred, forcing us to question our position as the so-called superior species.
A plate, a cup, or a bowl, are the tools of choice utilized by ceramic artist Marianne Chenard. Through the addition of several layers to these common-day objects, Chenard challenges the functions we apply to them, offering the objects a new identity. Layered with images featuring the Canadian landscape, three plates are fired at different temperatures, resulting in the objects as “ more than visual metaphors, but permanent archives, products of our civilization.” The plates show the landscape, and its many changes, but also remind us of the fragility of nature and the planet as whole.
This exhibition embodies the qualities Vey Duke speaks of. By avoiding the blatant, the artists of I’m Fine, You’re Fine encourage viewers to approach these subjects on a deeper level and ask questions that extend far beyond the obvious. There are no statistics, no haunting images predicting an unavoidable demise of the planet. Instead, serious issues are explored by fifteen individuals and interpreted through humour and irony.
Will we really be fine? Will I be fine, and will you be fine? The curators ask, the artists ask, and ultimately, you, the audience will ask as well. Exhibitions such as this remind the audience that complex issues can only be resolved with creativity. To engage in a discussion about climate change and our various responses to this profoundly affecting issue, is to have paid attention. Paying attention, as both Vey Duke and Gore have taught us, is the necessary first step, the first rippling indication, of change.
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Zoe Peled is a writer in Vancouver Canada.