Nina Czegledy, co-creator of the Leonardo Network, is an artist and adjunct professor at the Ontario College for Art and Design. Jane Tingley is co-creator of the SLOLab, York University. Together Czegledy and Tingley co-curated the Agents for Change: Facing the Anthropocene exhibition. Liz Miller is an artist at Concordia University. The online panel discussing the exhibition and Miller’s work was hosted by Joel Ong, Director of the Sensorium: The Centre for Digital Art and Technology at the School for Arts, Media, Performance and Design.
In the exhibition Facing the Anthropocene, Czegledy explains, science, technology and art are brought together by artists who share a deep, contemporary sensitivity to nature.
The exhibition, featured in Kitchener, Ontario, included Aotearoa/New Zealand artists Caro McCaw and Vicki Smith’s collaborative work “Sounding”, which is concerned with the noise pollution that is increasingly disrupting the sonic environment of marine mammals. McCaw and Smith seek to draw attention to spaces of communication for whales and dolphins that we cannot see, in a blue, underwatery light where viewers listen to echolocation by whales and dolphins recorded in the Tasmanian Sea.
In her work “Spontaneous Generation”, Toronto-based artist Elaine Miller makes links between the melting of the polar ice caps and the emergence of viruses, including Ebola, but with obvious resonance for the current covid-19 pandemic. For her part, Kristine Diekman, creating from California, presents “Behold the Tilapia”, in a stop-motion image of the fish, which is known for its resiliency but that is now facing extinction in polluted waters, exacerbated by the stresses of increasing temperatures due to climate change. Both use mixed media, as Tingley describes, while Maayke Schurer, an artist from Victoria, British Columbia, plays with the idea of the sublime in “Spirits of Wasteland” which creates beautiful yet horrific imagery with plastic and other waste that pollutes our environment.
Along with other featured women artists from across Canada and around the world, Agents for Change: Facing the Anthropocene, seeks to “critically and poetically investigate our present, unpack the social and cultural impacts of environmental change, speculate about future realities, and suggest solutions for how we might approach life in the Anthropocene.” This demands that we acknowledge the ways that environmental change, including rising oceans and heat waves, affects all of us, both human and other animals and insects.
In her work, Liz Miller’s The Shore Line project begins with the Lake Ontario shoreline, its histories and ecologies. Half of the world’s population lives by the coasts, which are densely populated and continue to develop, as Miller explains. Climate change means rising seas and storms that are increasingly affecting coastal areas. Miller’s work brings together engineers, educators, biologists, artists, and youth activists working across disciplines and across species. Through shared data sets, soundscapes, and more than forty short portraits of coastal communities from nine countries, this collaborative project considers the challenge of our collective survival.
In their different ways, each of these women artists invites us to consider the realities of living in the Anthropocene, an era in which human beings have irrevocably shaped the natural world, with devastating consequences for many species including our own. But these artists ask us to do more than witness. They invite us to engage with urgent ecological questions and to develop new relationships -- and deep love -- for the ecoystems that sustain all of us.