What can one artist do, in one day, to save the planet?
For Dai Toyofuku’s performance piece Glacier, which took place at the Eagle Rock Recreation Center during the height of the summer heat wave, the artist temporarily turned himself and his car into “glaciers”—structures draped with tarps that were then painted white. Over the course of the five hour performance/experiment, Toyofuku stayed inside his “human glacier,” and carefully recorded the temperatures inside the human glacier, the car glacierist, a control car and outside. At the peak of the day it was 15 degrees Fahrenheit cooler inside the human glacier than outside, and 30 degrees cooler in the car glacier than the control car.
For five hours, Dai Toyofuku successfully contributed to the cooling of the earth. It was an absurd yet earnest act.
The absurdity was inspired by the very real claim of Nobel Prize winning physicist Stephen Chu that painting roofs white and manufacturing “cooler” colored cars could dramatically reduce global warming. Within this context, Toyofuku’s gesture becomes a way to raise awareness, make scientific theory approachable and render the specter of climate change less abstract and overwhelming.
The execution of the glaciers was quick and dirty, more a child’s sketch of a glacier (a big white triangle) than something scientifically or visually accurate. Placing these homemade glaciers in the Southern California landscape, Dai drew attention to their foreignness. Though they hold a strong role in our cultural story, glaciers remain unreal, almost mythological, to most people–especially on a hot summer day. However, we have to be able to hold multiple landscapes in our minds simultaneously, imagining the totality of our planet and the long term consequences of seemingly harmless choices, if we are going to start really digesting what climate change does and could mean.
This cognitive collapse of space and experience also happens in the Parts (un)known collage works of Sara Schnadt. She created these collages for an installation and performance work that tracked her personal travel history through found images, but now Schnadt is beginning to explore the collages as works in their own right.
One that caught my eye, and acts as a nice visual accompaniment to Dai’s performance, is a juxtaposition of a glacial landscape with what looks to be a piece of farm equipment, obscured by a tarp, sitting in a hot dry landscape. My focus is magnetically drawn to the single tentative point of contact—the impossible space which connects hot with cold, the untouchable arctic and some obscure, unreachable past.
This flattening of the world is not a new concept, but Schnadt’s personal approach creates compelling fictive spaces from the fragments of experience. I am a fellow nomad–someone who’s friends and family are regularly stretched over the globe and who’s working life happens in the intangible data-space between L.A. and Cameroon–so this bittersweet work hits home.
A particularly haunting collage in the series connects together Berlin, Inverness, Afghanistan and Jerusalem. The way the spaces transition into each other is artfully done–the experience of viewing recedes into mist just as memory allows places and experiences to blend and soften. There are very specific and painful histories lying just below the surface, but these snapshots and postcards see the world through a tourist’s idealized and apolitical lens, speaking not to specific places but to the melding of longing and familiarity that permeates the experience of ex-pats and wanderers.
Though with very different agendas, these two artists are addressing the ways we conceptualize and understand our relationship to the globe in its entirety. I want to be optimistic and claim that as we become more familiar with far away lands and people, we become more empathetic and have a larger sense of responsibility. But on the converse, the more information we have, the more overwhelming and hopeless things seem to feel. It is at the nexus of global responsibility, frustrated activism and instant gratification that Toyofuku’s performance makes sense.
So, just what can one person do, in one day, to have a positive impact on the planet?