Infinite Balance: Artists and the Environment

26 Oct

This past weekend I ventured out to Balboa Park to the Museum of Photographic Arts for the Infinite Balance exhibit.   This was my first time being at the Museum of Photographic Arts so it was an exciting experience for me.  The Infinite Balance: Artists and the Environment exhibit was a collection works from renowned artists like Edward Burtynsky, pertaining to the environment.  Most importantly these works show the influence of man’s consumption on the environment.  Since we had already watched Manufactured Landscapes for class this was a great way to further our discussion in class and widen our scope of artists working sensitive subjects like this.

One of the first pieces I looked at was one by Edward Burtynsky, of the recent oil spill in the Mexican Gulf.  It was this huge aerial photo of islands in the gulf affected by this spill.  We all have watched the coverage of the oil spill on the news but to see Burtynsky’s photograph of the spill was somewhat surreal.  While these are severe incidents of environmental destruction there is a contradictory aspect to it all.  Because the photograph is so beautiful to look at, with the acid green patches of land with perfectly carved channels of water navigating through them, you sometimes forget what is actually going on there. I felt like this for all of the works there, you almost are remorseful because it is difficult to not say that they are incredibly interesting and beautiful but in reality these are instances of destruction and death.

The most poignant and favorite series was from Seattle based artist, Chris Jordan, who photographed decaying carcasses of albatrosses.  These serious of photographs did not even seem real at all.  Here you see this naturally living thing internally littered with unnatural man-made items like cigarette lighters, bottle caps, plastics and debris.  It was so heartbreaking to see the exposed stomachs of the dead birds literally filled with various forms of plastics.  It shows how our wasteful and careless consumption directly affects other beings.

The exhibit ended with series of works done by artist Yao Lu.  Growing up in a Vietnamese/Chinese household I am quite familiar with Chinese art like woodblock printing and brush painting, so at first glance I perceived Yao Lu’s prints as brush paintings not actual photographs.  However, at closer inspection you could see the ethereal green mountains were not fictional brush strokes but actual photographs of piles of rubbish.  Lu was amazing at portraying the environmental issues in a way that was clever and evocative of Chinese culture.  I was amazed of how smart the pieces were, you have a juxtaposition of a modern consumerist culture inside this ancient painting.

After attending the exhibit and watching Wasteland and Manufactured Landscapes, it was nice to see that artists are using their skills to for the good of society.  I feel like art is usually considered a luxury for the wealthy so it is refreshing to see that this art helps the environment.


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