Spare Change: The art of climate

Oct 11, 2013

The exhibit Spare Change: The art of climate will be on the first floor of Western Michigan University’s Kohrmann Hall until Thursday, October 17th. It has everything from a dress made of recycled materials to simple eye-catching info graphics like Amelia James work. 

“Businesses use more electricity for heating and air conditioning, lighting and operating equipment. Using Energy Star qualified products, green power, and recycling electronics significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions,” James reads from her piece.

Unlike most exhibits, every student in the show will be getting paid a stipend and a lucky few will walk away with a one hundred or two hundred dollar award. Bill Davis is an assistant professor of Photography and Intermedia at WMU. He organized the exhibit. Davis says student art only had to comment on climate change to be in the show, but to win an award judges might even look at the carbon footprint of the art itself.

“It’s not just about saying something about climate change, it’s about doing things in a way that integrates with the reduction of our impact,” Davis says. “So, that’s a hard thing for artists because we tend to consume.”

Clayton Pilbro is a graduate student in the Anthropology Department. The digital artwork he entered in the exhibit is filled with warm tones, like the Earth’s heat trapped by greenhouse gases. The panels of Pilbro’s work go from human’s earliest primate ancestors to modern day. Pilbro says for most of our existence, humans and human-like ancestors have lived in harmony with nature.

“I wanted to show the movement of being part of nature to starting to move away from nature,” he says. “Then finally at the right end of my piece, I have a cityscape with large plumes of smoke out. And this is to show the human pollution and carbon dump into our environment today."

Lauren Giuliani work looks like a landfill only cut up into tiny pieces and pasted back together like a haphazard puzzle.

“The pieces are just going to keep getting smaller towards the bottom, because it represents all the little things that can add up to destroy the environment such as trash and littering,” says Giuliani. “Cause there’s a lot of people that think just littering once in a while is ok. But when you add up everyone that thinks that, it kind of creates a huge problem.”

For Graphic design major Graham Barnard’s entry, he asked people for their opinions on climate change, wrote down the best quotes, and put them into a handwritten letter paired with an old-fashioned envelope pattern.

“It comments on the decadence of the 21st century and all our material. The idea is when you come and see it, it will be behind some tracing paper, a new and bright, shiny envelope with the letter. But it’s actually overlaid with a faded envelope where you get to see all the designs,” says Barnard. “But really, it’s not the designs that you decide to focus on because it’s faded and the words seem more important.”

Davis says he hopes this exhibit will get a discussion going about climate change and our role in the environment.

“Man is part of nature. Man has also made things that separate us completely from nature. So to say that we are not part of climate change is to not even recognize that we exist,” Davis says. “And that’s a philosophical statement. But we have definitely done things that are contributing to what nature would otherwise like to keep kind of naturally cyclical.”