WaterFire Arts Center Exhibit Shines Light on Climate Crisis

Planet Earth offers a surreal encounter with our natural world

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In 2019, onlookers were awed by the lifelike sculpture of the moon suspended from the rafters of the WaterFire Arts Center, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Mission and man’s first steps on the moon.

Now, in time for Earth Day, the artist who brought us Museum of the Moon takes us closer to home with an intimate view of the blue marble’s majesty. Luke Jerram’s 23’-diameter traveling installation Gaia is coming to Providence for Planet Earth, the Environment and Our Future, a multimedia exhibition presenting over 30 works that spark dialogue about our natural world and the climate crisis we’re facing.

“The exhibition also includes historical art, photographs, and objects from several cultures stretching across the continents and spanning two centuries, and tracing some of the Rhode Island connections to this larger story of discovery and exploration,” shares Barnaby Evans, executive artistic director of WaterFire Providence.

From the first indications that coal power could pose a threat to our climate in 1826 to today’s efforts to solve the crisis – including Rhode Island’s leadership in offshore wind power – this latest exhibit blends science and history with art. When encountering Gaia, for instance, viewers experience a sense of the “overview effect” astronauts describe of seeing Earth from above, hanging in the void of space.

Other works hone in on the environment, like Joan Hall’s luminous Algae Bloom, Richard Friedberg’s sculptures of atmospheric events like a tidal wave and 21-foot tornado, and Dennis Hylnsky’s photographic technique capturing birds in flight. Exploring a breadth of climate-related topics, other artists on view include William Bradford, David Burdeny, Judy Chicago, Martin Johnson Heade, Katsushika Hokusai, Duane Isaac, Young Joon Kwak, Sarah Jane Lapp, Janice Lardey, Haley MacKeil, Joseph E. Yoakum, David Whyte, and Faith Wilding.

“Our curatorial approach is not through the lens of art history,” says Evans, “but rather [to better match its subject] we explore some of the interconnected structures of the ecology of our perceptions of the world to better understand the psychological landscape that makes understanding and responding to climate change so difficult.”

To contend with the enormity of the task humanity faces to solve our climate crisis, Planet Earth, the Environment and Our Future pairs these truth-seeking disciplines of art and science to inspire Rhode Islanders to connect around the issues and discuss challenges on a local and worldwide scale.

“The creativity of artists, the ingenuity of scientists, and the insights of a range of cultural perspectives can help us find our way,” says Evans.

Planet Earth, the Environment and Our Future is presented with support from the NASA Rhode Island Space Grant Consortium, Kathleen and Barry Hittner, the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, Brown University, and the Roger Williams Park Zoo.

The exhibit is on view March 19-28, April 5-May 1 at the WaterFire Arts Center. WaterFire.org

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