Daniel Shea, “Coal-Fired Power Plant (Removing Mountains),” 2007, inkjet print, is featured in “Climate of Uncertainty,” which runs through March 24 at the DePaul Art Museum. | courtesy of the artist
‘Climate of Uncertainty’
♦ Through March 24
♦ DePaul Art Museum, 935 W. Fullerton Ave.
♦ (773) 325-7506;
Updated: January 16, 2013 5:52PM
A flock of crows swoop across the turbulent sky over a lonely field in one of Vincent van Gogh’s final paintings, “Wheat Field with Crows,” a haunting scene that some have seen as a portent of the artist’s impending suicide.
That famous work rushes to mind when seeing Maskull Lasserre’s “Murder,” a group of 19 carved-wood sculptures of crows arranged naturalistically by the Montreal artist in one corner of a gallery at the DePaul Art Museum.
Each of the birds are charred black, casting a pall over this otherwise innocuous scene and transforming these creatures into harbingers of an impending ecological calamity, the equivalent of dead canaries in a mine.
Although it could have been presented in a more dramatic way, the installation is among the most visually striking and emotionally compelling works in “Climate of Uncertainty,” which runs through March 24.
The show, which features mostly photographs and installations by 12 artists, explores humanity’s deleterious intrusions into nature, focusing primarily on accelerating worldwide climate change and its effects on the planet.
The exhibition offers no particular take on this vast problem — an omission that can be seen as a strike against it — but instead serves more as a call to awareness, with each of the artists waving a red flag in his or her way.
To its credit, “Climate of Uncertainty” avoids two pitfalls of offerings of this kind. Except for “Algal Biodiesel Processing Station III,” a kind of mini-laboratory by Marissa Benedict of Chicago, it does not devolve into a kind of glorified science fair, and it avoids polemical works that are little more than rants.
Indeed, if anything this exhibition is almost a little too tame. What is missing is the artistic equivalent of a smoking gun, a work that makes its point about environmental degradation with daggerlike directness and impact.
As the sobering documentary, “Chasing Ice,” makes clear, time-lapse photography showing the huge year-to-year shrinkage of glaciers achieves just such an effect. But Chicago photographer Terry Evans’ images of the fast-melting Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland, as striking as they are, do not drive home the point.
Clearly interested as much in aesthetic statements as strong messages, curator Laura Fatemi chose artists who, in most cases, manage to find beauty in ugliness. Exemplifying this duality is the show’s opening work, “Coal-Fired Power Plant (Removing Mountains)” by Daniel Shea of Chicago, an elegant, almost other-worldly view of feathery white plumes of steam or smoke set against an early-evening indigo sky.
A more uncomfortable fusion of these two seemingly opposing qualities can be seen in five sad yet inescapably alluring photographs by Chris Jordan of Seattle showing the remains of young albatrosses in the Pacific Midway Atoll.
Amid the skeletal and feathery remains are colorful bottle tops and bits of plastic that give these images an odd beauty until one realizes that it those discarded objects, which were innocently eaten by the birds and never digested, that killed them.
Other highlights include German artist Sonja Hinrichsen’s immersive, four-channel video showing the after-effects of the massive Three Gorges dam project in China and Chicago artist Sabrina Raaf’s “Translator II Grower,” a robotic machine that records carbon-dioxide levels in stripes of green paint much like a seismograph.
This latter still-unfolding installation, one of the most imaginative and effective works in the show, relies on the participation — no doubt unwitting in some cases — of visitors, whose carbon-dioxide exhalations influence the machine’s data-gathering.
It is not surprising that photography and installation art dominate this show, because they lend themselves well to its thematic intent, but surely Fatemi could have found a few more artists with suitable works in other media as well.
That said, “Climate of Uncertainty” presents an engaging diversity of artistic viewpoints on a subject that is sure to only become more front and center in coming years.
Kyle MacMillan is a local free-lance writer and arts critic.