Climate of Uncertainty at DePaul Art Museum | Art review

Twelve artists tackle climate change at DPAM.
Photograph: Courtesy of the artist Terry Evans; Icefjord that leads to the mouth of the Jakobshavn Glacier, June 27, 2008, morning; from Greenland Glacier: The Scale of Climate Change.
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While including images of melting ice in an exhibition about climate change has become a cliché, Terry Evans’s series A Greenland Glacier: The Scale of Climate Change (2008) delivers. The Chicago artist’s large-format photographs record Arctic landscapes in gray and white tones, accentuated by seductive blues. I felt a voyeuristic guilt as I enjoyed her depictions of the planet’s melted ice sheets. That sensation repeats itself throughout this show of achingly beautiful works—which carry dire messages.

Curated by DPAM associate director Laura Fatemi, “Climate of Uncertainty” is dominated by photographs and videos documenting the ruinous effects of human activities on the natural environment, ranging from Christina Seely’s sensuous nighttime shots of global cities’ light pollution to Sonja Hinrichsen’s video installation The Three Gorges: 3rd edition (2011).

Hinrichsen lulls viewers with travelogue-like scenes of China’s Yangtze River Valley. But our stupor is disrupted once we step into the glare of the installation’s projectors and read the wall text informing us that these serene riverscapes were created by the world’s largest—and, arguably, most environmentally destructive—hydroelectric dam.

Other installations are less successful. Marissa Benedict’s messy, confusing Algal Biodiesel (2012) appears to be a faux science experiment, which is out of step both aesthetically and conceptually with the rest of the show.

Few people appear in “Climate of Uncertainty.” But a companion exhibition, “Bruce Davidson: Welsh Miners,” records the impact of the coal-mining industry’s decline on a small Welsh town in 1965. Its human subjects, photographed against blighted backgrounds, remind viewers that environmental degradation affects not just spotted owls and tropical frogs but human beings.

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