Art and science may be at opposite ends of the educational spectrum, but that does not mean the two cannot create something powerful. On February 2, 2014, the Queens Museum of Art hosted an exhibit opening, Raising the Temperature: Art in Environmental Reactions, by the Community Partnership Exhibition Program. Multiple artists were featured in this exhibit, using various mediums to convey their take on climate change. “The perspective is aesthetic, not aggressively political, with scientific alarms filtered through artistic sensibilities” (Queens Museum 2014).
Luchia Meihua Lee, curator of the exhibit, emphasized that the point of the exhibit was to talk and raise awareness on our interactions with the environment. The common theme throughout the exhibit explored emotions and perspectives between progress and the environment. Hai Zhang, photographer and former architect, believed that as an artist, he is meant to connect people with societal issues. As an architect, he realized that sometimes what you plan for and what happens in reality are opposites. There are unsuspected environmental implications in progress. In this particular exhibit, he explored the connection between urbanization in China and the environmental threat in Costa Rica. Art, in any form, allows stories to be told, to uncover the truth behind conflicts.
For the exhibit, Hai selected photographs from two of his pictorial series: Don’t Follow Me, I am Lost and Awaiting the Rain. One series captures China’s growth in urbanization and the environmental impacts that progress has on the landscape. Starting with an aerial shot, the landscape is littered with uniformed buildings. Hai then focuses his story to on-the-grounds level, featuring trash piles in the foreground and Shanghai’s skyscrapers in the back, ending with a concrete jungle that is the epitome of urbanization. Juxtaposing from the urban storybook is a green wonderland of southern Costa Rica’s lush rainforest along the Chirripo River where Monte Azul Center of Art and Design is located. As the story progresses,the images become less green, the land now features man-made structures, and ends with fallen trees. Hai wanted to investigate the complications of urbanization through photography and interviewing locals. However, after five years of travelling, taking pictures, and ruining one camera due to rain in Costa Rica, he still cannot draw conclusions as to what urbanization truly means in the context of society. It is still a topic to be scrutinized over.
China and Costa Rica may seem that they are worlds apart, but they are very much connected. Both countries are exporters of goods and natural resources. Both countries trade with one another and with the United States. China is in the midst of an urbanization boom, experiencing unprecedented environmental complications. Costa Rica is aggressive in their exports in order to accumulate wealth for the country, which puts pressure on local communities to sell their forests for production materials. When Hai talked to Costa Ricans on the state of their environment, Hai discovered that most locals understood the importance of forested land. They value and cherish their forests, however, they lack the opportunities and wealth to sustainably manage the natural resources. For example, organic coffee farming is expensive to invest, but is less destructive on the land than conventional methods. Lacking capital to invest, organic farming is not popular, putting the environment at risk.
Hai noticed that people usually talk about the environment after a natural disaster or after the environment has already taken a beating to a point of no return. Why not talk about impending environmental issues like how Costa Rica’s green wonderland is being threatened? Why not take an interdisciplinary approach in discussing the conflicts between progress and environmental conservation, since all aspects of life depends on the land? Raising the Temperature: Art in Environmental Reactions has certainly raised some questions and achieved its goal in raising awareness on the human and nature relationship.
Where does science fit in? Behind the images. Art is the visual representation of scientific research that is behind climate change. Art can be a bridge that is needed to connect the scientific community with individuals. Art can be an instigator for change. Science can be an answer.
This content was reviewed by Hai Zhang prior to publishing.