Art of the Anthropocene

A series by Mr. Guariglia depicting the impacts of agriculture and mining on the Asian continent. The shimmering panels are layered with gold and other precious-metal leaf, gesso and acrylic ink. Below right is botryoidal slab of malachite from a mine in Africa. Credit Nathan Bajar for The New York Times

Tapping into a long, intertwined history of “photographers depicting nature with an eye to its fragility”, multimedia artist Justin Brice Guariglia translates his unprecedented access to NASA mission flights to visually quantify what is currently coined the Anthropocene Era.

Readers lucky enough to have the opportunity to view his coming exhibition, at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Fla., from Sept. 5 to Jan. 7 should do so!

Earlier this year at the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival, the artist Justin Brice Guariglia fell into conversation with a stranger.

“I got stuck on a gondola ride with a climate change denier,” Mr. Guariglia said recently. The stranger clearly had no idea who he was dealing with.

Not only had Mr. Guariglia previously talked his way into joining a NASA scientific mission over Greenland so that he could photograph melting polar ice caps. He also had even created a mobile app called After Ice, which allows users to take a selfie that is overlaid with a watery filter indicating the sea level projected in their geo-tagged location in the 2080s.

So when the man on the gondola said the earth’s warming temperatures were just part of a cycle, Mr. Guariglia recalled, “I took off my jacket and I said, ‘Does this look like a cycle to you?’”

Along his right arm is a tattooed wavy line that is actually a graph charting the average temperature of the earth’s surface over the last 136 years; on his left arm, a similar line reflects 400,000 years of carbon dioxide levels in the earth’s atmosphere. It shoots upward at the end and curves around his wrist.

Mr. Guariglia’s role as an alarm-ringer on such topics is more subtly evidenced in his coming exhibition, “Earth Works: Mapping the Anthropocene,” at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Fla., from Sept. 5 to Jan. 7. (The term Anthropocene was coined by the atmospheric scientist Paul Crutzen to refer to the current, human-influenced geological epoch.)

Even though the issue is personal for him, the 22 large mixed-media works in the show — all based on photographs by Mr. Guariglia, a former photojournalist — are elegant, abstracted and somewhat mysterious.

It’s hard to tell at first glance what they depict. Stars in the sky? A moonscape? Some images appear from a distance like a three-dimensional sculpture but all are in reality perfectly flat, falling “somewhere between a photograph and a painting,” in Mr. Guariglia’s words.

All the works depict parts of the landscape that have been changed by the presence of humans, from the scars of strip mining to the shifting topography of ice sheets.

“They are beautiful but terrifying,” said Beatrice Galilee, a curator of architecture and design at the Metropolitan Museum of Art who follows Mr. Guariglia’s work.

“Jakobshavn I” (2015) by Justin Brice Guariglia

The Anthropocene defines Earth’s most recent geologic time period as being human-influenced, or anthropogenic, based on overwhelming global evidence that atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth system processes are now altered by humans.

Transdisciplinary artist Justin Brice Guariglia has been granted access to the NASA/JPL Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) mission. Guariglia’s term will run through 2020. His images from these experiences, paired with the creative and ground-breaking manner in which he presents them, serve as a creative compilation that map the impact of man on the planet within the areas of agriculture, mining, and the rapid change in the polar icecaps.

Read the entire article here, and see more images on the artist’s website here.

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