Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 9:00 PM on Wednesday, February 9, 2011

350 Earth exhibit takes micro approach to macro problem

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photo by Michael Armstrong

Claudia Haines looks at art at the First Friday opening of 350 Earth at Bunnell Street Arts Center.

In art projects inspired by 350 Earth, an organization to inspire action on global climate change, many projects create aerial art performances. Groups of people might assemble on a field in the shape of a caribou, polar bear or crane.

Homer's 350 Earth project, now on exhibit at Bunnell Street Arts Center, takes a micro approach to a macro idea. Inviting artists of all ages and skills, it has almost 350 pieces, none bigger than 10-inches square.

Bunnell director Asia Freeman calls 350 Earth "a kind of social sculpture" that brings the community together.

"She's invited the community to make one bigger statement," Freeman said of 350 Earth curator and artist Sharlene Cline.

Although there's not a direct connection between 350 Earth and "Time Immemorial," a play about the Alaska Native experience in Alaska, showing Feb. 17 and 18 at Bunnell, director Freeman said both art works look at a larger issue.

"There's an underlying message with those presentations that had to do with cultural sustainability," Freeman said.

In coming up with her idea, Cline first thought of making 350 pieces herself.

"This is crazy, to come up with 350 pieces," she said. "The spirit of Homer is to get everyone involved. It really did take everyone."

Working with schools from Chapman School in Anchor Point to Razdolna at the head of Kachemak Bay, Cline talked with students about the issue of climate change. The number 350 refers to the ideal amount of parts-per-million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the amount many scientists believe is the upper limit to avoid runaway climate change. The earth right now is at 388.

One part of the show is a cluster of paper mache globes. Cline taught students how to make paper for the sculptures. The paper is dipped in a flour paste and laid over balloons. Some of the globe sculptures got damaged in the process. The younger students used the better globes, but Cline offered the damaged globes to fifth and sixth grade students as a challenge. That worried some students.

"I don't want them to be perfect," Cline said. "That's the imagery and symbolism behind it that is so strong. I encouraged them and challenged them to work with that."

One of the issues environmentalists face with addressing climate change is the immensity of the problem. Some say it's not a problem at all, that humans don't fully understand the complexity of climate change — or even that humans have caused climate change. Some environmentalists argue that we should be looking at adapting to climate change, that there's little individuals can do to address it.

Freeman said how children looked at an aesthetic issue — using damaged art — offers a lesson on how we address climate change.

"That really points to the bigger issue of getting past perfection and getting past complete control, and how to embrace this earth," Freeman said. "Those kids who saw the problem and embraced it is how to move depressed, distracted adults forward."

Art can help us understand political and scientific issues, Cline said.

"It makes it a safe place to discuss things, maybe because it's not always hitting you over the head with a discussion," she said. "Or maybe there's part of us where a topic has to be discussed emotionally first and not just intellectually."

Looking at a big issue in a small way also suggests how to solve big problems: with small solutions.

"I want people to feel positive when they left," Cline said. "What things can you do? You can plant a tree. You can grow a garden ... If everybody does one thing, look what you create. I think that's always a powerful message. I think that we always think one person can make a difference."

350 Earth ends March 4 with a family potluck at 6 p.m. followed by a concert with Mariah Ver Hoef at 7:30 p.m. Some works are available for sale, with proceeds to benefit 350 Earth.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.