This is a blog of ongoing projects starting with: 1) Antarctica -Dec. 2006 - February 2007 2) Work made from the experience 2008 3) Nevada Feb. - Oct. 2008

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Coal-Themed Sculpture Annoys Lawmakers

Today Jim Robbins ran this article in the New York Times Green Blog:

And tomorrow it may well go global as the Guardian have asked to interview me. If the energy companies hadn't made such a fuss about an overblown headline in the Casper Star Tribune all this would have been small beer. As it is they are now making veiled threats to The University of Wyoming about who they should and should not employ and what art should or should not be on campus. Isn't there something in the constitution here about freedom of speech - particularly applicable in a University, I would have thought. All this has been rightly stressed by the UW president. Art is free to speak its truth, and in the case of Carbon Sink all I am trying to do is to make many and multiple complex connections in as striking and beautiful way as I am able.

Rupert Murdoch, because of his economic and media power, has for years shackled UK politicians with veiled threats of electoral defeat, only to 'come a cropper' himself - custard pied in fact. The only thing that will work here if forests are to be saved and a repeat of what happened to New Orleans be avoided, is a proper and open debate about how we produce and use energy in a semblance of sustainability.

Below is Jim Robbins article.

Some people in Wyoming, one of the country’s top energy-producing states, are not happy with a sculpture that has just been installed at the University of Wyoming that depicts a link between human-caused climate change and dead forests.

The installation, by the British artist Chris Drury, is called “Carbon Sink: What Goes Around Comes Around.” It is 36 feet in diameter, and at its center, it features logs from trees killed by beetles, surrounded by lumps of coal. Forests have been dying in large numbers across the West, and scientists say it is because the climate has warmed, reducing the frequency of the well-below-zero temperatures that kill insects that attack pine trees. Human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are a big reason things have gotten warmer, they say. Foremost among them is the burning of coal.

The sculpture and its message do not sit well with two state legislators from Campbell County, Wyoming, home to some of the largest coal mines in the country. In a letter to the University of Wyoming, Representatives Tom Lubnau and Gregg Blikre, both Republicans from Gillette, the energy capital of the Cowboy State, protested the installation of the sculpture.

“While I would never tinker with the University of Wyoming budget – I’m a great supporter of the University of Wyoming – every now and then you have to use these opportunities to educate some of the folks at the University of Wyoming about where their paychecks come from,” Representative Lubnau told a local newspaper, referring to taxes collected from coal and other energy industries. He did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Museum representatives say they support the expression of their artists. “There are no plans to uninstall it,” said Susan Moldenhauer, director of the University of Wyoming Art Museum. “Chris Drury makes connections within nature. He’s not a political artist in any way.”

Mr. Drury said he understood that the world needs energy but that he also grasped that humans are doing damage to meet that need. His work seeks in part to connect these two ideas. An article that appeared about his sculpture in The Casper Star Tribune made that point, he said. But the headline – “U.W. Sculpture Blasts Fossil Fuels” – was a misrepresentation, Mr. Drury said, and angered some people.

“I’m sympathetic that we all use fossil fuels,” he said. “But whole forests are dying in the Rockies, and it’s happening everywhere.”

“I’m not trying to shove it down everyone’s throat, but I hope people will have a conversation” because of the sculpture, he said.

The work, which cost about $45,000 and was financed by an anonymous donor and with money from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund, is intended to return to nature through decay and will probably be gone in 5 to 20 years, Mr. Drury said.

Representatives Lubnau and Blikre have suggested that a sculpture of energy workers be built on campus.


Troy Nickle said...

I think this is an amazing piece and I like how you carefully considered your materials for its meaning. The work makes many connections on many levels. It has shed light on an important issue, that of our current environmental crises and has opened the door to a conversation that needs to take place! Thank you!

Gail said...

First, your sculpture is fantastic and the reaction of the coal industry is despicable.

Also, I wonder if you are aware (very few people are) that what is really killing the trees is ozone pollution. Ozone is highly toxic to humans and even more poisonous to vegetation. Agricultural crops are stunted reducing annual yield and quality by billions every years.

Trees of all species that are exposed season after season are dying at a rapidly accelerating rate. Research has demonstrated that when weakened by ozone they are more vulnerable to insects, disease and fungus. It is as though our trees have AIDS and are dying of secondary opportunistic attacks.

More at - photos and links to scientific research.

Brian Kunkemoeller said...

This is an incredible and thought-provoking piece. I think it was really interesting that Tom Lubnau said this was an opportunity to "educate some of the folks at the University of Wyoming about where their paychecks come from". Maybe in fact, it is he who should consider where his paycheck comes from, and at what costs. Campaign contributions? Guess who:

Mimi K said...

I live in the Rocky Mountain West, and have seen the US 'purple mountain majesty' (from America The Beautiful) turn to brown scabs from the beetles. It is ugly, and coal powered modern life is a major source of that ugliness.

You, Chris, have managed to make us 'see' the ugliness in a sculpture of extraordinary beauty. That is what great art can do, draw us in with beauty to see the terrible truth of our human ugliness.

The ugliness of the coal industry is being exposed by your beautiful sculpture, too, adding to its power. A deeper ugliness being revealed by your piece is how corporate dependency and creeping privatization of US universities seeks to control and limit freedom of thought and the pursuit of truth.

All around, I would say your work of art stands out among an ocean of self absorbed trivia as proof that art matters.