A Quick and Tragic Thaw
Last fall, a collaboration between two renowned artists brought together the worlds of art and science to highlight the grave dangers that climate change poses to our world. A Quick and Tragic Thaw, a collaboration between Yvonne Love and Gabrielle Russomagno, featured a series of artworks that used the arctic region as the symbolic apex of the impact of a warming world on all of us today. The exhibition combined scholarly research and data, mapping technology, and satellite imagery with essays, poems, photographs, and illustrations to interpret the more recent story of human-influenced climate change. More broadly, the urgent narration recognized migration movements of biological forms, toxins, and water to create a meditation on loss, and the fragility of the planet.
The artworks force us to look at the research of climate science and the contextual literature that comes with it, by juxtaposing specific material with content intended to emphasize connections (and implicit irony) between indisputable data and the conceit of how we choose to live. The works also embrace maps for their inherent artistic value, showcasing both their beauty alongside their literacy, scientific value, and utility. Love and Russomagno used the research of UVA Professor of Environmental Science Howard Epstein, Ph.D. to inform their works, and the interdisciplinary collaboration was deepened further by the Studio Art department making Ruffin Hall available for the exhibition as a way of tying into Bridging Science, Art, and Community in the New Arctic, a multi-day symposium presented by Epstein and his colleagues in Environmental Sciences. The map elements were created expressly for this project with arcticDEM and ArcGIS modeling software. Additional research, inspiration, and imagery were culled from Shipmap, NOAA, DEM Explorer and Polar Geospatial Center, MPAS (Land and Ice), Arctic Biodiversity Data Service, NASA Earth Data and Project Ice Bridge, The Nature Conservancy Migrations in Motion, and Esri (Environmental Systems, Research Institute). The catalog and exhibition announcement design for this exhibition was generously donated by Adrienne DiGiovinne. The exhibition was the latest in a decade-long collaboration between Love and Russomagno, and a return to the topic of their original 2007 offering, "Hot Topic: Meditations on Global Warming," focused on the shrinking of polar ice caps, the catastrophic loss of perma-frost, monster storms, and drought. In 2017, they pivoted the focus of their work, making the determination that the confluence of the political environment, the acceleration of climate change, extreme weather, and the decimation of wildlife demanded their urgent attention. Given the realities of our world today, the politicization of a topic such as this is both inevitable and incendiary. While the artists are clearly cognizant of this fact, they work hard to separate their art from the volatile epicenter created by political forces and mass media. "There's something about loss and beauty combined that I think stirs everyone's soul,” Russomagno recently told C-Ville, “Maybe if the conversation through art activates that in someone, then we have done our work.”