“Contemporary art” is a loose term that defies any boundaries or classification. The versatility of this art form was readily apparent at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Art'sBring Your Own: Climate as Site” presentation and discussion on Tuesday, February 11. The two contemporary artists sharing their work displayed the wide spectrum of interpretations of contemporary, though both epitomized our current deeply felt struggle with climate change.

The most striking feature of the exhibition was the disparity between artists Jane Marsching and Lize Mogel, and the fundamental similarity that their differences highlighted. Marsching’s work was emotional—one audience member described it as “nostalgic”—and Mogel’s work was methodological and almost scientific in a way. Yet they were both approaching the desperate fear and uncertainty behind climate change.

Mogel and Marsching both tackle climate change with their art in a way to stir reflection and discussion. 

Marsching described how she deals with this “grip of fear, grief, denial, flight or fight” induced by climate uncertainty by creating new stories. Her art cannot quite be described as displays because they are interactive—both with their natural environments and with visitors. Marsching hopes that her art sparks discussion.

However, to Marsching’s surprise, nobody wanted to talk about climate change. One of her recent projects, a half-scale model of Walden’s cabin that was constantly relocated as a way to challenge our separateness from place, stood as the locus for different events she held. Everyone wanted to discuss the plants and the flowers, but not climate change. A scientist friend encouraged her that it wasn’t failure—“that’s data.”

Jane Marsching, Field Station deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in the Hemlock Grove, August 2013, 5.5' x 7' x 10,' pallet wood and rough hewn pine planks, research materials, chalkboard, plant inks, dialogs, walks, journals, flagJane Marsching, Field Station deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in the Hemlock Grove, August 2013, 5.5' x 7' x 10,' pallet wood and rough hewn pine planks, research materials, chalkboard, plant inks, dialogs, walks, journals, flag

Her other projects include a kite that was once a prototype for a failed weather kite (a “failed experiment”) that she whimsically described as a gift to weather, to climate, and to place. She also constructed “salt marshes” out of hemp and other recycled materials that were designed to provoke people to consider what would happen if plants had agency and if we had a relationship with them.

Marsching’s abstract undertakings contrasted sharply to Mogel’s work. Mogel, who calls herself a counter-cartographer because of her alternative interpretations of traditional maps, started her projects with research. One of her interactive displays includes a blown-up representation of the center of the UN map, the Arctic region, where she drew in lines to show the shrinking sea ice and the national claims to territory in the sea. Her project is also interactive in that the map can rotate, so people can consider different perspectives in terms of the political nature of maps. There is also an accompanying text that describes the complexities of the region, in terms of the shrinking ice and the drive for oil drilling by bordering countries.

Mogel also held a public picnic with a cake that was frosted with a map of the city sewage treatment plants, color-coded for their functions. The event was held to spark a discussion of the sludge economy and to raise awareness of the sewage systems.

Art has always served as a way to contemplate our human condition, but it is fascinating to see the way in which art is grappling with the threat of climate change. 

Mogel and Marsching both tackle climate change with their art in a way to stir reflection and discussion. Art has always served as a way to contemplate our human condition, but it is fascinating to see the way in which art is grappling with the threat of climate change. Perhaps it serves as a way for us all to consider not just the physical consequences, but our shared emotional responses as well.