The Art Gallery at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa becomes an immersive space with “Inundation: Art and Climate Change in the Pacific,” an exhibit that emphasizes the position of art in approaching climate change.
Held from Jan. 19 to Feb. 28, the installation features pieces and panels, called “Water Talks,” meant to cultivate a space to discuss a world that is tasked with responding to a changing climate.
Participating artists include Mary Babcock, Kaili Chun, James Jack, Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner, Charles Lim, Angela Tiatia, and siblings Martha and Jake Atienza, who established an “experimental platform” called “DAKOgamay,” which, according to the platform’s official website, creates work in response “to the on-going destruction of Bantayan Island.”
According to inundation.org, the opening event will be on Jan. 19 from 1:30 to 5 p.m. at the ART Auditorium + Gallery on campus. The artists will talk about their pieces, followed by poetry performed by Jetn̄il-Kijiner and a reception at 3:30 p.m.
“Water Talks” will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 21 at the Ho’okupu Center and Thursday, Jan. 23 at the UHM Art Gallery from 4 to 7:30 p.m.. During these talks, which include two panels per event, artists will be conversing with scientists, historians and those in similar capacities to discuss different histories and experiences regarding climate change.
People can RSVP for these panels via the Eventbrite links provided on the exhibit’s official website.
“Inundation” also features a community art project called the “HighWaterLine,” created by artist Eve Mosher, on Jan. 25, in which participants will walk through Kakaʻako and “experience the historical flow of water in the Kaka‘ako area, once a wetlands area with many fresh water springs, and to talk about current and future flooding, watershed management and future development.” Although the “walk” portion of this project is now full, a self-guided tour is currently being made.
The project is curated by UH Mānoa Associate Professor of Critical Theory and Contemporary Art History Jaimey Hamilton Faris, who is currently writing a book on how climate change is represented.
“When we see climate conversations in the news media or in classrooms, we’re often faced with these images of storms, of city sidewalks being flooded with storm surges, with Pacific Islanders being drowned out of their homes from rising seas,” Faris said. “These images, as a visual historian, concern me because it tends to direct the conversation to one that is about water as the threat, storm surges as the threat, when we actually need to be doing more to protect and understand water, to honor water, and to honor all the ways that water wants to flow.”
In conversations with Babcock, Faris mentions that Hawai‘i offers a unique space to discuss climate change. She and Babcock wanted to give the featured artists, who Faris is collaborating with for her book, a chance to display a different take on the national discourse of climate change.
“We thought it was really important and we wanted to bring them (the artists) to a place and a space that’s so unique in the world and in the U.S., Hawai‘i, as a state - as an occupied territory, is in a unique position to hold these kinds of conversations outside of the typical national discourse of climate change,” Faris said. “We don’t think so much about global histories of colonization, about global mining practices or transportation issues on that kind of connection.”
Faris believes that artists in particular have the ability to portray climate change in a way that allows viewers to question what is inundating them and what solutions can be made to ensure a positive outcome.
“What the artists bring to this is a space of contemplation; they try to bring this conversation together through feeling, through emotion, through personal storytelling and imagery that allows you to let all of this sink in so it doesn't overwhelm you, so that the connections and histories don’t overwhelm you,” Faris said. “They work aesthetic space to create an immersive environment, rather than an inundating environment for viewers.”
Faris is most excited for the types of conversations that will come from the exhibit.
“I think most of the climate conversations that we have are about the world we live in and that solutions that we’re creating are only imagined for the world we live in. I am really excited to bring these artists here because they are offering a ‘many worlds’ scenario. They are offering understandings of traditions and cultures that have lived in communication and in response to the environment,” Faris said. “They are offering future scenarios where we can imagine multiple worlds where we can think beyond the kinds of value systems that we have in the world. I am really excited about those conversations because we tend to get consumed in the fear of the impending dangers rather than practicing how we see a future world. We need to practice that more.”