New exhibit combines art with environmental issues

In a winter when El Paso, Texas has gotten more snow than Chicago after a summer of record-setting highs, it’s an appropriate time for “Climate of Uncertainty,” the current exhibition at the DePaul Art Museum (DPAM) that opened Thursday, Jan. 10.

The exhibition pairs 12 photographers and installation artists together in an exploration of environmental issues, curated by Laura Fatemi in conjunction with the Environmental Studies department at DePaul. The works reveal the ways natural resources are being exploited while giving hope to the future.

Beginning on the first floor of the museum, the exhibition starts with work by artist Sabrina Raaf. “Grower” is an interactive piece that measures the carbon dioxide levels in the room and translates the reading to strokes of green paint on the walls. Confusing at first, the instrument measuring the carbon dioxide levels look a bit like a Roomba vacuum moving slowly along the baseboard, the piece involves the viewer, mirroring the impact all organisms have on the environment.

The exhibition progresses through the rest of the lower level and onto the second floor. It has a good distribution of photographs mixed with installations, keeping the viewers interested throughout, never bored with what might come next.

Of the photographers in the exhibit, Daniel Shea and Allison Grant stood out. Shea’s work stems from an interest in energy sources. “When you flip on a switch, you become part of a larger matrix,” said Shea.

Three photos from his 2009 series “Plume” are displayed in succession horizontally, with “Cheshire, Ohio” beginning the series. The photo upon quick glance looks like a simple photo of a home surrounded by open land and trees in the background. On further review, the clouds reveal themselves as plumes of smoke puffing from coal plants in the background. The muted colors and serene landscape give the photo eerie overtones; the plumes act as a warning sign of a certain doom for the pristine and simple lifestyle for the home.

Photographer Allison Grant captures nature in a very different manner – by not capturing it at all; she uses synthetic objects arranged delicately to recreate nature. Her 2009 series “unsoiled” replicates wildlife photos from the Internet with found objects. In “Marsh,” she uses green nylon to replicate the marshy grass. It’s scary how well the found objects recreate nature, but that is indeed the point of Grant’s work. When looking at the work before reading the accompanying statement, the viewer would not know the objects were not part of nature. It acts as a great comment on not only nature, but technology as well.

Installation artist Maskull Lasserre takes on birds in his piece “Murder,” crows to be exact. The artist leaves interpretation up to the viewer with many meanings and themes behind the carved, burned crows. Arranged on the floor and low to the ground, the installation resembles stones washed up on a beach, but ominously black. The crows may represent habitat destruction or species lost, or might remind you of the pigeons huddling under the heat lamps on El stops during the winter. Either way, the piece is visually striking against the stark while museum surroundings.

Environmental activist or not, a trip to DPAM before the exhibition closes March 24, is a must. Not only is the art aesthetically appealing, the message behind the works is something worth thinking about as it feels like spring in January.