Inessential views of art and photography.
*Originally published in 2020 here.
A fundamental challenge in the pursuit of Climate Justice is the visualization of change. Even in the post-truth era, we still ascribe a great degree of trust to facts. Often, numerical data are employed to establish these facts. And while popularly we may believe numbers don’t lie, the majority of us would find extremely difficult to effectively comprenhend the operations and processes that hide behind statistics on global warming or air pollution. Perhaps this is why Greta Thumberg appears so credible and trust-worthy. Her speeches frequently combine (from budgets to carbon emissions), which she weaves into convincing arguments through a careful, calm and very logical delivery. But, as much as we would like to, there is just one Greta, and so while her tactics may be reproduced by others, the level of impact most probably wouldn’t. The racist incident that left Vanessa Nakate out of the picture (literally) earlier this year serves as an example and brings me to the role of the visual (from images to public image) in achieving Climate Justice.
Visualization of Climate Justice been the subject of academic research. In 2009, scholars Lester and Cottle pointed out the many shortcomings of mainstream media representation of Climate Justice. A few years later, Sheppard outlined ways forward by advocating for interdisciplinary dialogue to inform visualisations. Currently, the MILA project in Quebec continues to engage with the coming future and aims to further understand visualisation of Climate Justice. In 2019 The Guardian, taking note of these debates, reviewed its editorial guidelines – visual and otherwise. Since then, it seems to me, its pages have featured more, more in-depth and more local environmental reporting.
A recent issue of TIME magazine pushes readers to think about this from cover to cover (literally!). Familiar shapes, colours and composition encapsulate key data “such as CO2 emissions (1880-present), including the projected drop due to COVID-19, average global temperatures (1880-present), renewable energy consumption (1965-present), land ice volume (1960-present) and sea level rise (1880-present).” Created by young artist-scientist Jill Pelto, the magazine cover propells curiosity and reflection on the biggest challenge of today’s society, Climate Justice.
In reflecting about the cover, Pelto highlights the potential ability of art (visual or otherwise) to allow “audiences to connect with science in ways that are emotionally relevant” (ibid.). Fellow artist, Peggy Weil, has approached the extended time of climate in her work, creating visualizations that invite humans to shift their immediate/pragmatic/person-centered understanding of the world, towards “a longer view”. The suggestion is then, that we need to look in portrait mode, contextualising, following networks in space and time.