As Hurricane Michael was making its landfall near Mexico Beach on the Florida Panhandle last Wednesday, Erin Turner was uninstalling a hurricane that was nestled between the trees on Governors Island in New York City Harbor. Michael, the hurricane that plowed into the coast of Florida on October 10th, was a category four storm and, according to the NASA Climate Change website, the strongest on record to hit that region. Its heavy rains, high winds, and storm surges created multiple tornadoes and caused mass destruction. As of Monday, its death toll reached eighteen people.
Strange Weather is what New York based artist Turner calls her installation, one of a series of works under the same title. The series bring to the forefront not only the issues surrounding climate change, but the ways we understand and learn about them.
Strange Weather is a graceful sculpture that the artist created during Hurricane Harvey last year and modeled after the shape and color of its satellite image. It is built out of newspaper pages sourced from found newspapers – The New York Times and many others – all of which feature reports of a storm that produced so much rainfall that the National Weather Services had to add two new colors to the its precipitation charts. The artist also used her own photography, which was printed on newspaper-like paper, adding these two colors, pale pink and deep purple, to control the color palette of the sculpture’s surface. One of the recurring photo-images she used was a body of a woman submerged in water.
The sculpture, suspended against the backdrop of green leaves over the walkway of Colonels Row, was one of many works presented this September as part of the Governors Island Art Fair. Strange Weather organized the open space around itself in a non-threatening way, it came into sight appearing deceptively devoid of a representational content. But once the cognitive link is established, the graceful elegance of the sculpture serves to accentuate the menace of the phenomenon this work denotes – the apposition of grace and menace is striking.
In his address to the World Economic Forum 2016 in Davos, Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson spoke about the transformative role of a work of art and its effect in bringing us closer –to each other and to the elements of everyday life, mitigating the “numbing” effects of the routine. The artist, a recipient of the 2016 Crystal Awards, has created large scale works that alert us to the issues that we, the residents of this planet, are confronted with yet refuse to notice.
Pablo Picasso said, “Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.” The relationship between art and knowledge is something that we like to ponder over and over again. Erin Turner’s installations certainly are beautiful, but to notice the graceful elegance of their form and ingenuity of the material is to underscore the urgent need to act. Art is impervious to spatial-temporal limitations – it seems that artworks communicate across the borders and even times urging us to cooperate. In the end, we’re all in this together.