Art Shmart:

Nikki Sansone

No matter what you read in Colgate Couture, green is definitely the new black. From the presidential elections to Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth to Vanity Fair’s green issue and back again, being environmentally aware is trendier than celebrities accumulating babies. But if you’re anything like the scores of people who are guilty of being less than hip on this new green movement, fret not.

Cue recent Colgate lecturers and Clifford Gallery featured artists The Canary Project. The Canary Project is an interdisciplinary project that includes the efforts of scientists, artists, curators and any other hands that care to get dirty in the mess of raising environmental awareness. The Canary Project prides itself as being one of two known collaborative teams that exclusively makes art about climate change. The project’s goals loosely include correcting misconceptions about climate change and, above all, “mobilizing society to build a more sustainable future.”

The work by The Canary Project featured in the Clifford embodies just one of the strategies undertaken by The Canary Project to activate the masses to combat climate change. The pictures featured on the second floor of Little Hall feature images of fire and ice, as in forest fires and the melting glaciers. The Canary Project sees their work as an interlocutor between science and man: each image represents the piles upon piles of graphs, plots and statistics that clearly point to the rapid destruction of our tender ecosystem; however, the images formal qualities seek to appeal more to our tender hearts than anything else.

The Canary Project was simple enough in its goals and methodology, yet still some of those audience members present for the lecture were left scratching their heads. The logic behind The Canary Project is simple enough: fight apathy by breaking the fourth wall – that is, if disaster and destruction isn’t happening close enough to audiences, then the Canary Project will bring it as close as they can get via their collection of images.

The part of this whole project that seemed a little less successful was the actual images themselves. One need only take a passing glance at the frames on the second floor of Little to know how beautiful and almost poetic these pictures are – no doubt the work of a skilled photographer. But as catalysts for change the consensus seemed to be that these images fell drastically short. With the exception of the picture featuring a single tree in flames, the subjects of the three remaining photographs are abstracted through their distortion of scale (since when can a melting glacier fit in a 15 two foot frame?). Beautiful abstractions of images in nature? Yes. Harrowing images that are going to incite the masses to rebellion? Probably not.

Partly in defense of The Canary Project, another crucial component of their exhibit was compromised when they were only given three-hundred pounds of ice to melt in a two-inch tall container – a far cry from their usual nine-hundred pounds left to melt in the middle of a gallery. However if the strength of a project rests on quantity of ice alone, you’ve got to wonder – are we at an exhibition or a frat party?

The Canary Project is still in its infancy, and has accomplished quite a bit since their conception in 2006. Their ambitions not just with their work, but also the vision they have for their project is both impressive and promising. The Canary Project not only shows their art in galleries but also in science museums and kid-friendly venues, which certainly shows their commitment to their goal of helping to get at the root of climate change (excuse the eco-pun).

The effectiveness of the way in which The Canary Project realizes their methodology leaves the project vulnerable to criticism. Many were quite willing to overlook the problems of the images as being too abstract to be emotional, pointing out the virtues of simply getting people to start a discussion about climate change. Reps from The Canary Project themselves were careful to point out that in choosing their images they did make conscious efforts not to toe the line between dramatic and shocking, as the latter has already been played out to death in the media and can be alienating. All of these are valid issues and concerns: but then, what of The Canary Project’s mission statement?

They write, “The Canary Project produces visual media, events, and artwork that builds public understanding of human-induced climate change and energize commitment to solutions. The Following are the key strategies we employ: visualize global warming in compelling ways that leverage data and communicate a sense of urgency [and] …cultivate media attention to further inform a broad public and to create excitement around the issue.”

The Canary Project has a promising future, especially given their ambitions and future projects – this much is certain. In terms of the work they are doing now, and the work currently displayed, however, it can best be summed up as this: it’s a pity they didn’t get that nine-hundred pounds of ice.