Crafting climate awareness & sustainability

Brentaro Yamane | Multimedia Editor | Justin Lin (center) explained the purpose behind Susie Ganch's 'Landscape #2: Purisma,' which was created from used bottles, faux pearls, wood and silk.

Hannah Peters | Staff Writer

As we celebrate the new year and look forward to what lies ahead, Contemporary Craft is using art as a reminder of what may come to threaten this new future: climate change. The non-profit arts organization showcases contemporary work that draws inspiration from traditional crafting materials and methods to create modern commentary.

For the past few months, the art museum and studio based in Stanton Heights held an exhibition focused on environmental advocacy. Four different artists were featured in the show, utilizing natural and sustainable practices in a variety of works.

The exhibition, titled “Climate Awakening: Crafting a Sustainable Future,” went on display Sept. 8 and ran until this past Saturday, Jan. 14, when they had their last guided tour. The tour was led by Contemporary Craft’s exhibition coordinator Justin Lin, who believed the most important aspect is getting people to show up.

“My goal is always to get people into the doors, look at the show and then once they’re in, I think what’s most important is that we think about it beyond just the visual aspect of the work – we think about the story that led to the work.”

In the case of the featured artwork titled “Sea Ice/Albedo,” the story behind the work involves science and data. Crafted by artist Adrien Segal, this artwork is composed of six glass panels that have been cast with satellite images of the polar ice caps.

Albedo referred to the reflecting power of a surface, a measurement that has been particularly important in the study of energy absorption and ocean warming. As sea ice melts, its reflectivity decreases and energy absorption increases, creating a vicious cycle of increased ice melt, Segal said.

Including properties of light diffusion, reflection and gradations of light to dark, Segal’s piece captured this scientific phenomenon with rich blues and an icy texture.

Another featured artist, Susie Ganch, created an 84-inch by 120-inch tapestry-like piece made from coffee lids and other plastic refuse, titled “Remember Me, Katrina.” Referencing the 2005 hurricane that destroyed the Gulf Coast, both the material and vortex-like patterns represent specific messages about the environment.

“She’s referencing that same destructive energy that a hurricane has and placing that energy onto something like the coffee cup lid. With so [many] waste materials being pumped out through our general everyday life, over time it builds up and creates a destructive force that could be as terrible as a hurricane,” Lin said.

Ganch, who intentionally uses sustainable processes throughout her works, sourced her recycled items from her community and social media, and she even went through the trash at local coffee shops.

“My artwork harnesses ‘solastalgia,’ or eco-anxiety, to challenge cultural practices that cause environmental devastation while also celebrating meaningful narratives behind our relationship to things,” Ganch told Contemporary Craft.

Highlighting aspects of the environment, the art on display contained elements from all different forms of nature including water, earth, atmosphere and life.

Located outside of the gallery, the piece made by artist Meghan Price, titled “New Balance 6,” used layers of deconstructed, used athletic shoes to make a vibrant mural representing the striations of Earth’s crust, linking the themes of human and geologic time, consumer culture and ecology.

Artist Courtney Mattison contributed her detailed and colorful sculptures that focused on sea life, with an emphasis on coral reefs. With a background in marine conservation biology, Mattison brings a message of both warning and hope throughout her works.

One piece, called “Hope Spots” was made as a reminder of the vivid and beautiful life that is a coral reef, referencing the areas of the ocean scientifically identified to be critical to the ocean’s health.

“I believe that art has the unique ability to translate scientific concepts, bring environmental issues to the surface and inspire conservation,” Mattison said to Contemporary Craft.

The same sentiment was expressed by visitor and environmental activist, Felecia Mitchell-Bute who believes art plays a special role in advocacy.

“People get frustrated with all the bad news, and they don’t really know how they can make a difference, and sometimes we need artists to translate that for us in ways that is more visual and not just emotional,” Mitchell-Bute said.

In conjunction with the show, Contemporary Craft hosted a forum in October highlighting several speakers from different sectors “who promote environmental awareness through collaboration, education, advocacy and innovation,” according to the news release.

Some of the presenters included Christina Neumann, beekeeper and owner of Apoidea Apiary as well as Jess Boeke and Sarah Pottle, Co-founders of Rust Belt Fibershed. Five different sessions were held throughout the day to “examine the climate crisis and discuss innovative solutions.”

This kind of work follows closely with Contemporary Craft’s mission of creating socially-engaged art experiences, with”Climate Awakening” marking their fifth and final exhibition of 2023. The next exhibition is in the planning process and expected to arrive in 2026.

The importance of these events was echoed by visitor and former Duquesne University art history professor, Christine Lorenz, who appreciates what Contemporary Craft has to offer.

“Taking time to look closely and react and respond and follow the train of curiosity that it provokes for you – I think this is a really important experience that this event can offer that we just don’t get everyday,” Lorenz said. “This gives us an opportunity and a space to take our time and allow our minds to wander and respond.”