Translating Earth, Transforming Sea

SHAWN BITTERS, JOAN HALL & LAURA MORIARTY

 

Over the past decade, an increasing number of artists have been reconsidering their relationship to the global environmental crisis. In their 2007 article, “The Anthropocene, Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?” Nobel laureate Paul J. Crutzen and co-authors Will Steffen and John McNeil argued that the Holocene epoch ended some time in the 1800s after the onset of Industrialism and the term Anthropocene better describes our current period during which accelerating rates of fossil fuel emissions, deforestation, species extinctions, and other effects of human activity are fundamentally altering the earth’s geology. The term is catalyzing activism among artists as well as scientists and an increasing number of exhibitions have been focusing attention on our precarious relationship to nature. Yet many environmentally-concerned artists face a dilemma: how do they translate the profound beauty and mystery they experience in nature without perpetuating outmoded notions, escapism, or misinformation?

Translating Earth, Transforming Sea brings together three artists—Shawn Bitters, Joan Hall, and Laura Moriarty—who respond to such questions with exemplary insight, craftsmanship, and creativity. Although differing in style, they share a fascination with geology and their works convey the wonder and complexity they find in distinct topographies that have inspired them for decades.

Through integrating disparate materials and creative processes usually associated with two-dimensional art forms, they create sculptures and installations that probe our changing relationship to the biosphere. Although they demonstrate a love of beauty more than an affinity for dissonance, Bitters, Moriarty, and Hall contradict the pastoral ideal of society living in harmony with nature. They do not portray nature as sublime—a limitless resource to fear or exploit. Instead, they emphasize the omnipresence of human industry. Whether standing before Bitters’ Yes,Yes, Yes, Now, Now, Now, Moriarty’s Atchafalaya, or Hall’s Acid Ocean, we see nature as increasingly engineered, managed, and merged with the artifacts of human industry.

In distinct ways, Bitters, Hall, and Moriarty have linked their own evolving identities closely to the fragility and metamorphosis of the earth. Whether evoking seismic upheaval or documenting ocean pollution, they confront difficult truths with an empathy and resilience that encourage us to do likewise.

—Andrea Packard, Curator